K-Drama Review: “Extracurricular” Explores Choices And Its Consequences In Teen Crime Plot
“Extracurricular” grips viewers by exploring the side activities students engage to in a thrilling teen crime plot.
Extracurricular, one of Netflix’s original dramas, is unassumingly dark considering its basic conception. It centres around many typical tropes found in most high school dramas: the quiet loner, the insider socialite, and the popular power couple. However, Extracurricular is anything but stereotypical. Underlying its youth-centric plot lies a sinister story.
Themes: Teen crime, suspense, action
Length: 10 episodes
Broadcast date: 29 April 2020
Main leads: Kim Dong Hee | Park Joo Hyun | Jung Da Bin | Nam Yoon Soo
Highlights: Complex plot | | strong acting | beautiful cinematography
Drawbacks: Unlikeable characters | Gore | Cliff-hanger Ending
Quick Plot Round-Up
Oh Ji Soo is a quiet, straight-A student who runs a precarious side business. Since his father is a gambler and his mother abandoned him, Ji Soo lives on his own.
Consequently, he had to find a means to provide for himself. He thus formed an app for women to set up compensated dates. His services include a personal security line sex workers which can be contacted if the date turns dangerous.
Life seems to be going smoothly. Ji Soo earns thousands in a month, slowly saving up for college tuition. His main dream is to attain a ‘normal’ life.
He wants to graduate college, secure a job, get married, and have children. However, things come to an abrupt turning point. His crush and classmate, Bae Gyuri, finds out about his illegal side business.
Gyuri is the daughter of CEO parents and the school socialite. She takes an interest in the quieter Ji Soo and suspects he is hiding a secret.
Because of this, she steals his phone and finds out about his app. She attempts to blackmail him for money in order to fund a life away from her parents, who want her to take over the family business.
Gyuri lures Ji Soo away from his apartment by telling him a fake location where he could find his phone. She attempts to steal Ji Soo’s savings while he is away. Unfortunately, at the same time, Ji Soo’s father comes to his apartment.
As Gyuri hides, Ji Soo’s dad stumbles upon the money and steals it. After that, his father loses the money because of a cryptocurrency scam. As a result, everything Ji Soo had been working towards is gone.
Ji Soo’s bad luck foreshadows worse events to come. Gyuri urges Ji Soo to partner up with her. She has the capital to keep Ji Soo’s business afloat following his losses.
She wants part of his earnings once the business is back up and running. Having no money and no other choices, Ji Soo relents. The two consequently become business partners.
Meanwhile, the series also focuses on Ji Soo’s classmates. In particular, the show follows the lives of popular Seo Minhee and her bully boyfriend, Gwak Ki Tae.
To appease her demanding boyfriend, Minhee becomes one of the sex workers using Ji Soo’s app to buy Ki Tae’s lavish gifts.
The drama escalates when Ji Soo’s misfortune continues. His classmates, the police, and a gangster, all become involved in Ji Soo’s business. His dream to have a normal life sinks further from his grasp while the consequences of his business loom near.
Gritty, complex plot
One of its strongest suits is Extracurricular‘s substantial plot. The show does not reiterate the enjoyable, yet stereotypical, plots of most high school dramas.
Instead, the show takes a courageous leap into the challenges of life youth face. For example, the show is concerned with family dysfunction and poverty, in addition to bullying and harassment.
However, Extracurricular is not a story that condemns its characters for their decisions. Instead, it takes a serious look at how society shapes choices. It is filled with many topics avoided in most dramas, for instance: violence, sex work, exploitation, bullying, and harassment.
The drama makes viewers uncomfortable at many moments. Surprisingly, this may be its most charming trait. It is a refreshing representation that life is not perfect.
By exploring these struggles, the show poses a moral struggle to both its characters and audience. At what point are bad decisions an inevitable response to grave circumstance and challenge?
In this manner, Extracurricular provides its audiences with a thought-provoking journey.
Extracurricular stuns with the performances by its youthful actors. Because of the heavy themes it handles, the show needed acting capable of supporting the plot. Its cast did not disappoint.
At the forefront of the show’s actors is Kim Dong Hee. The rising actor is quickly asserting himself as a young leader in the industry following his previous performances in Itaewon Class and Sky Castle.
Once again, Dong Hee delights viewers with his performance in Extracurricular, portraying Ji Soo’s quiet but driven ambition brilliantly.
His partner in crime, Gyuri, is played by newbie actor Park Joo Hyun. Joo Hyun carries the coolness of the high school “It” girl through her bluntness and nonchalance.
Additionally, Gyuri’s rare emotional moments showed Joo Hyun’s broad acting range; they were just as convincing as her less emotive scenes. Her powerful performance proved she is an actor audiences should keep their eyes on.
Supporting actors Jung Da Bin and Nam Yoon Soo similarly captivate viewers. Da Bin plays vulnerable Minhee well. She propels the character forward as someone the audience truly can empathize with. In contrast, Nam Yoon Soo embodies his character’s cruelness by portraying Ki Tae’s unapologetic bullying well.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the show was its beautiful cinematography. Directed by industry veteran Kim Jin Min and with the financial backing of global network and distributor, Netflix, Extracurricular had artful cinematography. For example, the use of color, shot composition, and special effects created the quality of a high-budget film.
Viewers were treated to a beautifully filmed series that matched the performances of those in it.
Despite strong acting, the show lacked likeable characters who audiences could relate to. Many showed no remorse for how their actions could affect others.
Gyuri was unapologetic for almost ruining Ji Soo’s life. Ki Tae was a brutal bully with no background to give audiences context for his actions. He thus seemed like a convenient villain needed by the show’s writers.
On the other hand, Ji Soo frustratingly failed to learn from past mistakes. He recklessly continued making bad decisions. Because of this, it was difficult to root for the characters or to sympathize with them when problems arose.
Furthermore, the characters’ relationships with one another were flimsy. Many discussions revolved around plot events rather than emotional bonding. As a result, audiences may not feel as impacted by their relationships as they could have been.
The show-runners opted for a cliffhanger ending to this drama. Consisting of only ten episodes, Extracurricular‘s open-end felt more like an obligatory decision. With a second season more than likely, the show’s conclusion seemed like bait for another season rather than an end truly fitting for the show.
Though ending on a strong note by leaving audiences wanting more, the show could have been resolved in a few more episodes.
However, by cutting the first season short, this could hint that the show’s creators have a lot more in store for viewers if a second season is announced.
Series Afterthoughts & Recommendation
To say that Extracurricular is simply a teen crime drama would be a serious understatement. The show treats audiences to a captivating, complex plot. It encourages its viewers to engage in the moral debates the story frames for its characters.
Additionally, it pushes the important idea that people cannot be judged too harshly for their decisions. It highlights the unequal circumstances and luck every person receives in life. However, the show emphasizes that there are consequences of every action.
Due to its rare deviation from drama tropes and its unique storyline, Extracurricular is a recommended drama to anyone searching for a refreshing watch.
One that does not hesitate to show the bad and the ugly of life. A show that will leave you feeling like you gained something from it, its message resonating long after the end.
Image credit: Netflix