Starring two of my top favorite, worldwide popular Korean actors, "The Two Gongs", Gong Hyo Jin (Master's Sun, It's Okay That's Love, Pasta, Thank You) and Gong Yoo (Coffee Prince, Goblin, Big, and the blockbuster film Train To Busan), this often hard to find 2005 classic Korean drama proved very addictive yet sometimes frustrating to watch at the same time, mostly -- for me -- having to do with how the second male lead character (played so well by unbelievably cutie pie actor Kim Dahyun, who was new to me) was written, sometimes exploited, to further the main plot of a troublesome high school senior (Gong Yoo) falling in love with his high school homeroom teacher (Gong Hyo Jin).
If you have ever seen a character in a TV drama or film who was just TOO NICE compared to everyone else in the story you will understand my frustration. This character deserved none of the complications that came his way. He bent over backwards caring for everyone, but then sometimes would be stabbed in the back, or simply not dealt with honestly or fairly for extended periods of time.
RARE FULL OST
I bought the DVDs off Amazon for this rare drama and I admit I pretty much watched it on a marathon schedule around the clock because the performances were all top notch and strongly dynamic and compelling, sometimes far better than the material the actors were presented with in the script. This is when you know you are watching a nation's top professional actors -- they take a familiar story line like a "To Sir With Love" one, and make it unique and special and totally captivating -- so much so that you can't bear turning it off, even to take a meal or bathroom break, or for sleep!
Kim Dahyun and Gong Hyo Jin
play on again, off again sweethearts
Painful Teacher Crush
Where the story excelled the most was in dealing with the individual high school students' trials and tribulations in their lives, and especially Gong Hyo Jin's character's compassion in helping them outside of the classroom setting, and when it became a weaker story it was often in dealing with the on again, off again romance between Gong Hyo Jin's and Kim Dahyun's characters, both playing teachers at the school. With the high school student played by Gong Yoo determined to break them up before they could get married I often found myself wanting to shout at my TV screen, "Oh, grow up, already!", when he kept interfering in their romantic relationship. Gong Yoo really had to work overtime to make me switch my loyalties. Oh I had Second Male Leaditis Disease really big time during this drama! ;)
Gong Yoo and Gong Hyo Jin:
Still Friends Over A Decade
After Making This Drama
Gong Hyo Jin was 25 when she made this drama and Gong Yoo was 26. Often you really needed to use your imagination to see Gong Yoo as an 18 year old kid, although his often goofy, immature, bratty behavior helped in that area in playing a teenager; it was almost a foreshadowing of his fine performance in Big seven years later, a story in which an 18 year old high school kid's spirit entered his body after a vehicle crash and for most of that drama he had to play a teenager when his character was in his mid-thirties. For Gong Hyo Jin this was her second time playing a high school teacher in two years: in 2003 she had starred opposite Rain in Sang-Doo, Let's Go To School. Both of these high school dramas are overall excellent to watch, largely because of Gong Hyo Jin's far ranging acting talents. She simply has never given a bad performance. And I must admit -- eventually -- I was charmed and touched by Gong Yoo's performance as the troubled teen.
Gong Yoo (2nd left) and his high school buddies;
he is the school's "jang" (leader)
The Story: Feisty twenty-five year old Na Bori (Gong Hyo Jin) isn't your typical new-hire high school homeroom teacher. She had been expelled from the same high school years earlier for getting into fights with male bullies. This had made her determined to strive to become a teacher herself, to get her high school equivalency diploma, a college degree, and earn a teacher certificate, just so she could return to the same school and prove herself a successful person to all the staff there. She lives with her younger sister Na Seon Jae (Lee Yoon Ji) who works in the medical field, and rarely sees her mother Bae Yi Da (Geum Bora) and father (Lee Jae Yong) who work at a monastery far away from Seoul.
After flunking the initial interview at her desired place of employment, her old high school, because the school's staff remembered her troublesome personality from the old days, she eventually is hired anyway in a rather secretive manner (elaborated below), and she takes over as homeroom teacher to a bunch of rowdy senior high students, both boys and girls, and proceeds to win their trust and affection, and even in the case of the school's biggest troublemaker student, Park Tae In (Gong Yoo), his total love and devotion, against all odds, and even when another girl his own age cares for him deeply, named No Jem Ma (Choi Yeo Jin from I'm Sorry, I Love You and On The Way To The Airport).
Best Crier In The Business:
Gong Hyo Jin
No Saline Drops Required
However, Na Bori's REAL motive in returning to the school, which she doesn't even like to admit to herself at first, is to be able to teach alongside her first love and high school teacher crush, the handsome art teacher Ji Hyun Woo (Kim Dahyun). When they see each other again sparks fly and it soon becomes obvious that the art teacher had had a secret crush on her too back in the old days! It turns out he has been instrumental in getting her hired at the school, by going behind the scenes to the administrators and urging them to reconsider their decision on her hiring. Even despite his romantic feelings for her he wisely sees potential in her as a teacher that others miss.
The real power behind the decisions at the school, though, proves to be, not the overly-emotional, unstable Head Teacher (Jo Hyung Ki) who decided Bori's initial interview -- a school official character I disliked all the way through the drama! - but with Tae In's hard as nails step-mother, the Principal Ji Young Ae (Yang Geum Suk), who is seeking to find a way to tame her rowdy step-son.Bori has a hard time with the kids
at first, until she breaks the ice with
them using an unconventional method
She secretly tells Bori that she will be hired at the school only if she agrees to mentor and watch over Tae In and help him to mellow out, improve as a student, and become a more stable person. She wants this change in Tae In to make for a smoother home life for herself, primarily, and to impress her husband, Tae In's biological father Dr. Park Joong Seop (Lee Hyo Jung), with her wisdom in taming the rambunctious student. The father has been frustrated with his uncontrollable son for years, although later it is revealed that Dad isn't exactly innocent in the emotional harm he caused his son, in how he raised him after his first wife, the boy's mother, had died.
So, in essence, Bori becomes the personal babysitter to the unscrupulous Tae In, a fact that Tae In doesn't discover until about half the drama is over, to his great shock and anger. In the beginning of their relationship Tae In treats Bori with contempt, but her warmth and her quirkiness eventually wins him over, so much so that she becomes his First Love, just like Ji Hyun Woo the art teacher had been hers way back in her own high school days.
Probably the Most Famous Scene
Tae In also eventually suffers great jealousy over Bori's increasingly romantic relationship with the art teacher Ji Hyun Woo, who just happens to be his uncle! He sometimes even deliberately lies to Bori and his uncle in an attempt to cause friction between them and to stop them from becoming engaged. A main bone of contention becomes an old girlfriend of his uncle's, Chae Eun Song (Oh Yoon Ah from Saimdang: Light's Diary and Alone In Love) whom he keeps insisting to Bori his uncle is still in love with, despite all evidence to the contrary. Maybe it was because of her own inexperience with men but inexplicably Bori seems to think Tae In is correct, and she doesn't recognize that he is lying to her for his own gain. This was the weakest part of the story for me. His uncle had always been there for him, even sleeping on a cot next to him when he had been hospitalized after a fight. Now instead of being grateful to his uncle he tries to steal the woman he loves away from him.Gong Yoo's Two Proposals, one at 18 yrs old, one at 20.
The pretty street in the 2nd clip, with the lovely bent trees,
was also featured in some scenes in Master's Sun (2013)
You KNOW you've seen hundreds of K-Dramas when you
start to recognize location shots :)
While the romantic tussles are going on between the main characters the real backbone of the drama was the students' individual personal stories, some were so powerful they made me cry hot tears; you have students with poor home lives who are quietly suffering, kids having trouble with gangs, potential suicides even among the most intelligent of the students, health crisis situations such as family members needing expensive surgery they can't afford, homelessness and parents abandoning their children, a student with a brain tumor who only has a 10% chance of survival, etc. These scenes are where Gong Hyo Jin is superlative in her acting skills, even more so than she normally is. Honestly, these scenes are what I will remember most dearly about this drama. And how all the classmates banded together to help each other overcome their challenges, almost becoming like a family.
There are surprises along the way, and Tae In finally grows up and even decides to become self-sacrificial, as long as Bori is happy. I had what I call Second Male Leaditis "Disease" quite badly during this drama but I could certainly also see the obviously growing, strong attachment between Teacher and Student, and graduation brings even more surprises as well. (Something I learned from this drama that surprised me was that high school students in Korea don't graduate from high school at age 18, but at age 20, after which they are considered to be independent).
I loved one particular scene in the last episode where Gong Hyo Jin walks around Seoul and unknowingly passes by all her former students whom she had helped, who are now getting on with their lives professionally and academically. Do teachers really understand what powerful, long lasting impacts they have on their students? This show will bring that message to you simply and powerfully.
I know you will enjoy this drama a lot. This was Gong Yoo's first big drama role, and helped prepare him for his future blockbuster success with Coffee Prince two years later. As for Gong Hyo Jin she is ALWAYS worth watching. In ANYTHING.