With monster ratings, a lot of hype, and somewhat touchy subject matter, “SKY Castle” was one of those dramas that I felt was going to be a great one; and one that I wanted to watch as soon as it came out last year. While I may be very late to the party, this drama went above and beyond my expectations what with great direction, a tightly paced story and a brilliant ensemble cast that was balanced all throughout the drama. This was definitely worth the hype, although the last episode came across as a little bit too preachy in the end, making this an almost perfect Kdrama classic of this generation.
“SKY Castle” ran for twenty episodes on JTBC and was also released on Netflix and VIU as well. It was directed by Jo Hyun Mi, was written by Yoo Hyun Mi; and ran from November 23, 2018 to February 1, 2019. This drama enjoyed monster ratings and enough attention that US TV network NBC announced that they will be making an American remake of the show, something I’m really not that keen about, but I’ll share more on my thoughts about that later.
The drama follows four wives who live in the elite SKY Castle neighborhood, a neighborhood populated with elite and upper class families who would do anything and everything to keep their status in society and who are obsessed with sending their children to the top three universities in the country. The drama mainly follows the Kang family, whose patriarch is a department head in a prestigious university hospital and whose eldest daughter is a top student at her elite high school; the Cha family, whose patriarch, a law professor and former chief prosecutor dictates his own beliefs and study methods on his teenage twin sons; the Woo family, whose only son is still in middle school; and the Hwang family, a family that just moved into SKY Castle, and whose beliefs are very much different from the residents of the community. While the drama does do a great job at balancing the ensemble cast and the different families we follow, it mostly follows the Kang family, and in particular, its matriarch, the ice cold Han Seo Jin (Yum Jung Ah), and her eldest daughter Kang Ye Seo (Kim Hye Yoon), who is preparing to take the college entrance exams.
I was very much surprised and the tight pacing of the story and the detailed direction that was seen in every single episode of the drama. Each episode gave the right amount of plot development, while still balancing the large ensemble cast that it had, and each episode ended with great cliff hangers to the point that I ended up binge watching the last half of the drama. Aside from this, I loved the amount of detail that this show had, whether it be a smirk, a look, or showing the tension of the scene and the emotions that the characters are hiding by focusing on their clasped hands. I also enjoyed some of the camerawork as well, especially when it was employed to show the shifting dynamics of who was in power at that moment. The soundtrack was also compelling, and all the characters were layered and complex as well.
It was also great that they were able to package the show in an intriguing way while subtly doling out meaningful life lessons without being too preachy, that is, until the very last episode, in which the dialogue sometimes went borderline cheesy and a bit preachy, which made it not feel very organic to the show or the characters that said those lines. However, that is the only real criticism I have of this show.
The ensemble cast was great, and I was amazed at how they were able balance enough screen time for each family and each character; and I was also amazed at how each character had their moments to shine and that none of them felt over-shadowed by the other. This, I think, is a difficult feat, especially as the adult ensemble cast in itself was already composed of an amazing set of actors. The children shone when they had to as well, and I’m looking forward to see what Kim Bo Ra, Kim Hye Yoon, Lee Ji Won, Chani, Lee Yoo Jin, Park Yoo Na, Kim Dong Hee and Joe Byeong Gyu will all do in the future. (Aside from Kim Hye Yoon, Chani really stood out to me, but I think this is also because I’m slowly getting into SF9 as well.)
Kim Seo Hyeong’s performance as the admissions coordinator Coach Kim was nothing short of stellar. Every single movement she made, from her hair choices, to subtle movements, such as a quick smirk or the clasping of her hands was deliberate and informed her character a lot.
Now, I know that the subject matter of the show is a little touchy and can make people a bit uncomfortable, as it is a dark satire that focuses on the wealthy and the extreme measures they take to ensure that they send their children to the top three universities in Korea, as there is a lot of pressure on a lot of Asian children to attend the best schools as the belief was that going to a prestigious university with a good course would guarantee you for success in life after you graduate. For some, this uncomfortable subject matter made them want to watch the show even more, while others didn’t as it made them too uncomfortable. As for me, I did experience a little bit of pressure due to the societal norms around me (I do come from an Asian country, after all), and I did experience having a private tutor for a subject I had difficulty in, but I guess I was lucky enough to have understanding parents who value my happiness over that. Also, unlike students like Ye Seo who were over-achievers, I responded to the pressure in the classroom by underachieving a lot.
Regarding the American remake, I’m glad that the drama got enough attention to the point that its getting a US remake, but based on American TV standards, I have a feeling that I’ll be a little bit let down especially if they put too much effort on the shock value of things. However, I do think that its perfect timing to greenlight a project like this with this subject material, what with the recent college exam admission scandal that happened in the US recently.
“SKY Castle” was an almost perfect Kdrama classic, especially for this generation, that not only boasted amazing performances and a great cast, a tight storyline and great direction, but bravely decided to take on an interesting yet touchy subject matter that also doled out a lot of meaningful life lessons as well. At the end of the day “SKY Castle” allows us to ask ourselves if going to the extremes to achieve success in life is that important, even if its at the sake of one’s real happiness, and at the expense of others.
Now, you know the drill, from here on out, there will be spoilers!
Now that my initial thoughts are out of the way, we can now delve into each family, including the ill-fated Park family and Coach Kim herself.
A lot of the drama does revolve around the Kang family, but one of the main catalysts of the entire show was what happened to the Park family. What happened to them should have served as a warning to the SKY Castle residents, and especially to Han Seo Jin and Ye Seo. Instead, Seo Jin decided to ignore this and went ahead with allowing Ye Seo to continue to be under Coach Kim’s coaching. I am very much glad that in the end, Park Young Jae (Song Geon Hee) and his father, Park Soo Chang (Yu Seong Ju), were able to reconcile their relationship with each other, and that made it only feel right for Soo Chang to be the one doling out advice to Professor Kang Joon Sang (Jung Joon Ho), in the end.
I loved the evolution that each of the characters in the Kang family had, especially Professor Kang, Ye Seo and Seo Jin. The youngest daughter, Kang Ye Bin (Lee Ji Won), was my favorite among the bunch, as she seemed to be the only sane one in the family. However, I could see the extreme pressure she felt, especially as her parents initially didn’t really notice her as much as her older sister as she never got the kind of grades that Ye Seo did.
While it is still wrong, I can see, based on her real background, why Seo Jin wanted only the best for her children, and I’m glad that she did have a change of heart in the end, even though it was a little bit selfish on her part as well. However, I did appreciate that she was able to become a mother that was more open to what her children want and actually need instead of dictating what she believes would guarantee them success in the end.
As for Professor Kang, I was surprised by how much I had feelings about his evolution, especially after he realized that he really did not know who he truly was as all he ever did was fulfill the roles that his mother wanted him to do. That breakdown that he had in the hotel was very heartbreaking in its own right.
As for Ye Seo, I cannot really fault her for her bad behavior as her parents really never corrected her about it, but I was happy about her character evolution. In the end, she did give up something very big, and while adjusting to self-paced studying will be a challenge for her, she’s using her determination to win in a good way.
Kim Bo Ra was wonderful as Hye Na, and what interested me was that although she was a “villain” in a way, there was still a sweetness and a vulnerability to her as well.
Let’s move on to the Cha family. Yoon Se Ah’s Noh Seung Hye was my favorite among all the wives in the neighborhood, and seeing her evolve into an strong woman who stood up against her tyrannical husband and went to such lengths to protect her children from him was just satisfying to watch, especially as she did it in the classiest way ever.
Cha Min Hyuk did have such outdated beliefs and I felt bad for his sons, whom he pressured to a fault. For me, the last straw was his behavior towards his eldest child, Se Ri, after he discovered that she wasn’t a Harvard student and did not want to go to university at all. However, I did believe that Seung Hye and Min Hyuk do care for each other, and while it is hard for him to let go of meddling in his son’s education, I’m glad that slowly but surely, it will happen.
The Hwang family is a pretty normal family and served as a foil to the rest of the residents. I loved how Professor Hwang was level headed in most situations, until he really felt like he needed to speak up when things were getting a little bit too ridiculous. I loved Lee Soo Im’s independent and fire-like spirit as well, and sometimes, she served as an interesting audience surrogate voicing her opinion on their ridiculous notions.
Chani was nothing but wonderful as Woo Joo, and he was the one that made me cry, especially during that whole period in which he was being arrested and interrogated. Now, I can understand why Woo Joo would want to go on a long sabbatical and not go to university after everything that happened, but I think that once he’s done with his soul searching, he might study again, this time with a better sense of purpose as he’ll know what he wants to do and he’ll know by then who he really is; and I’m glad that his parents can trust him enough and let him go enough to allow him to do that.
The Woo family was mostly served up for laughs, but I do like the fact that while they do come from wealthy backgrounds, they seem like a pretty sane family, and I’m glad that they are able to take in everything and learn good lessons from them. Based on this, I do think think that Soo Han will grow up well, happy and will be successful in the future in his own little way. Also, Lee Yoo Jin is an amazing little actor, especially as I could see the hurt in his eyes when his mother scolded him for not getting good grades and for making her accidentally break her precious cabinet of chinaware.
Finally, let’s talk about Coach Kim. At first, I was wondering why she does what she does. After all, what kind of person would allow her mentees to reach the top only to destroy them and their families? And then, we got her backstory- that she was a mother with a genius kid whom she pushed too hard, which caused her own family to break up, and caused her daughter to get into an accident that damaged her brain for life.
At the end of the drama, I thought that she would turn over a new leaf, but in that little epilogue sort of thing, it shows us that she will keep on doing what she does. After thinking about it, I think that in a way, she allows families to be destroyed at the highest point of their happiness not because she wants to teach them a lesson, as I thought she was doing, but because she wants them to experience the same pain that she had to go through. Thankfully, there are some families who end up being spared from that by nipping it before things get too far, and those who learn from it such as Young Jae’s family. However, there will be those that won’t be that lucky, and she will never stop, especially as it doesn’t seem that people’s attitudes towards success, happiness and higher education ever change.
“SKY Castle” is definitely a great sneak peek into how the wealthy can get extremely obsessed over higher education and should serve also as a warning as well to those who believe that getting good grades and getting into a good college is the only way one can be happy and successful in life, regardless of class. It was definitely a solid drama that deserves its spot and is now going in my list of must watch dramas.
Have you seen “SKY Castle”? What did you think of it? What do you think about its upcoming American remake? Let me know what you think in the comments below!