Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Written by Chin Wye Mun, Junior 2 Cempaka, Class of 2014

[Spoilers all the way from here as I elaborate on my personal feelings about the show] 

Biggest Question in the Drama : How do you define a monster?

Photo Credit : dexjul
Upon watching this drama, there is one big question that will be floating around in the space of your mind for a while. That question, is posed at the very beginning of the series by one of my absolute favorite characters, the "ace of the team", the emotionless genius, Choi Chi-Hoon (played by Sung Joon) : Are monsters born or raised? This is equivalent to the nature versus nurture debate, which questions whether the behavior of us humans are inherited by genes or learned through observation and imitation of our environment. Although this question is more frequently asked than the award-winner, when you think about it, you'll find yourself wondering more on what is a monster rather than how one is created. The original question stems one of what exactly is the definition of a monster? How would you define "monsters"? 

After having these questions prop themselves in my mind for hours and taking away my precious sleep time, here's what I think I think (this is intentional; it's such a complicated topic of discussion I'm not completely sure this is what I think but for now, it is). I've always leaned a little more to the nurture side of the debate. I believe that if you grow up in a certain environment, you will most likely be influenced by said environment. For example, if you are surrounded by a Chinese-speaking community, regardless of your born race, you will end up picking up some of the Chinese language, likely even more than the race you're born into. 

Regarding the definition of monsters and the whole talk about whether we are born with them or we raise them, I feel that the presence of monsters are inevitable. Humans are monsters - we are complicated creatures, shaped by our environment and shaped by nature. There is no single human who will not feel the touch of a "monster". We are not born to kill yet we are not born 100% pure. We are born to be challenged by temptation, by envy, by anger and hatred. The beauty of being human is that we can choose who we want to become. It is true that circumstances can restrain, but with determination, we can be whoever we want to be. When a murderer kills, they have chosen to pull the trigger. When you help an elderly lady cross the street, you have chosen to extend your arm to her. We are not born to point guns or to be generous. We are taught and we should be educated. And then we choose for ourselves. Like a novelist, you write your own story. It is your choices that make you who you are - monster or not. 

Even then, the lines can get blurry. Are you a monster if you steal for your poor family? On one hand, by stealing, you have committed a sin and a crime - bad. On the other, you're aiding the survival of your family - good. Like I said, humans are complicated. Sometimes, out of the blue or when our boundaries have been pushed, we turn into monsters, but then we learn to calm our demons and maybe even eventually slay them.

This is why so many people are focused on getting criminals to be educated rather than just punished. Of course, prevention is best but that is not an option when the crime has already occurred. 

Who won the game?

The ending was a beautiful thing. The doctor claims he "won" because the students pushed him to the edge of the roof and watched him fall, eyes cold and blank, unfeeling. At that moment, he felt that he had managed to turn them into monsters, cold-blooded killing machines. I have to agree. I think it is true. That scene and the interrogation scene that follows show the dark side of the students. Look into Park Moo-Yul's dark eyes during the interrogation and you will find something terrifying - the loss of the innocence of a young boy who once believed that following the rules makes you honorable. They could have chosen to let the police enter and do their job (which they aren't very good at - how can you mistake a frozen body for a fresh one?) but instead they chained the doors together and cornered the doctor into gripping the edge. They let themselves be consumed by anger and hatred. In this sense, I do believe they let out their beasts.

However, within the unleashing of their inner monsters, they also made themselves vulnerable to each other and found among the group, the formation of a new (hopefully) unbreakable trust. They too had won the game by finding the power to trust each other. They all had matching stories during the interrogation and no one person told the truth. Throughout the game, there are rare times you find all 7 of them together and discussing plans or filling each other in. Someone is always missing. But in the end, they're all together and they walk the same path, the same direction. Lying is a sin but trust and teamwork are virtues. 

If you think about it, while playing the game, they were forced to already consider the possibility of being burdened by murder in order to stay alive. Young Jae cracking under the pressure convinces me that he is the weakest link of the group. The rest of them though, remain adamant that they will not become the monsters Doctor Kim wishes them to be. Though they remained adamant about it, they were definitely very close to crossing the border. Jae Kyu almost smashed the life out of Young Jae, but then he took a look at himself and he saw the image he swore not to be. Eun Sung raged at Doctor Kim and threw her cup near him in anger, the want to kill boiling and bubbling at her very surface. Moo Yul thought about letting go of the rope and letting Chi Hoon fall to his death and he faltered. He let go for the slightest moment but he regained himself and he pulled again till Chi Hoon was back to safety. But when it came to the doctor, they all cracked.

I was truly very disappointed that they pushed him over the edge. When the doctor admitted Yoon Su's case had failed but questioned the results of the rest standing in front of him, Park Moo Yul turned to walk away. I honestly thought he was walking away from this nutcase, walking away from becoming a monster. But he didn't. I suppose he actually gave it away in the beginning. He did say, "I had to become a monster to fight a monster". I loved the students so much that I really didn't want them to turn into monsters, even if it was just for a moment.

Adults vs. Adolescents 

Anyway, perhaps it is better that they pushed the doctor to the edge instead of letting the police take over. This brings us to another great thing about this drama which is the incompetence of the adults versus the genius of the adolescents. Perhaps they feared the police would slip up yet again and fail to wrap this whole mess up. Young Jae's mother was frustrating. She should have just waited her turn to speak and the minute she stole the microphone from Moo Yul's father, I was in disbelief. Eun Sung's mother was quite a sad case. There are several theories on why she kept quiet about her greatest sin but I still stick by the simplest, most obvious one, as explained in the movie. She was selfish. 

Genius Kids

Also, the fact that they were all incredibly smart (except I didn't really see Young Jae's intelligence, pardon me and if anyone can show me some proof of this, I'd be thankful) meant that there was no room for ranting at the ensemble for doing the silliest things. Many characters often make obvious mistakes like trusting the wrong person, taking the wrong road or doing the stupidest thing like going out alone in the dark. However, these geniuses don't and that's a relief for it saves me the energy of having to press the space bar and pause the show and just take a moment to detach myself from the utter stupidity of the character. 

Best Death : Choi Chi Hoon

Other contenders include Yoon Eun Sung, Yoon Su, Jung Hye and the teacher. I'm assuming Eun Sung was indeed hypnotized and the teacher didn't really stand out to me as anything anyway. It was a pity he had to die. It would have been handy to have a judo expert still on the student's side. Jung Hye was just crazy but Yoon Su's death was well-done. Even so, the thought of Chi Hoon dying was more saddening though manageable for me. It was honorable. He worked hard to get them out of their mess but Young Jae had to crack under the pressure, once again and put Chi Hoon up for punishment. This particular award could be slightly prone to bias, I'm sorry.

Best Character Development : Yoon Su/Kang Mo

Furthermore, the character development was pleasant. They're all very distinct characters. My favorite characters for development/background were Yoon Su and Kang Mo. Yoon Su taught me that we believe what we want to believe. We twist illusions and make it into our own truth. He was illusioned that his maid/aunt was his real mother and formed a disliking for her real son, who stole the attention away from him. He lied about being kidnapped and eventually even believed his own lie. The corner monster was only a monster because Yoon Su thought it was. It was all in the mind. 

For Kang Mo, he was brave and courageous and I pitied the way they "witch hunted" him. He was so cheery in the beginning of the show; it was heartbreaking to see him lose his smile for about the whole second half or so of it. He is so selfless - he discards his own personal attachment towards Eun Seung, for as long as she is happy, he feels happy. He was separated from the rest and had to hide from the people who were supposed to be his "teammates". And yet, at the end of it all, he saved the day, disabled. 

Young Jae actually had a good chance to win in this department (he's not even the best troublemaker). He battled with consistency and vulnerability and he cracked twice under the pressure of the gun pointed to his head but in the end, he managed to keep it cool and keep the trust. 

Best Bromance/One True Pair (OTP) : Kang Mireu & Choi Chi Hoon

You can't deny it. The moment Mireu found out that Chi Hoon was dead (or presumed so), his face just completely changed. They're from two completely different worlds - Mad Mi Reu & the emotionless genius. Yet, they're bound by the heated passion of competitive youth. Mireu was the one person to ever beat Chi Hoon. Mireu was the only person to ever cause Chi Hoon to feel loss. They don't show great affection towards one another or even friendship, but there's a special relationship found in competition. 

And they definitely beat Eun Sung paired with anybody. If I were to pair Eun Sung with anybody, it'd probably be Young Jae. That part where he cornered her and said that twisted line, there was something magical in the darkness of their relationship. 

Most Angelic : Yoon Su (of course, haha)

Finally, some people argue that Yoon Su killing himself was more monstrous than becoming a killer. I disagree. Indeed, he stayed true to his nickname of Angel. Even if he didn't like it, I felt that Yoon Su was more of an angel and less of a monster than any of the other 7 kids. Not even Park Moo Yul, the most obedient or Choi Chi Hoon, the smartest was more angelic than Yoon Su. Yoon Su killed himself but the 7 of them killed somebody else. Yoon Su had the right over his own life and sacrificed his own to protect those of others. Was the doctor's life for the other 7 to take? No. Stripping it down to the basics, they had killed someone, committed murder and turned into monsters. 

People also speculate that Yoon Su's death was made to symbolize that together they stand but alone they fall as Yoon Su was the only one separated from the group at the end during their recovery while the rest were together in the hospital. I could agree with this and I think it's further testament to the strength of the trust they've formed with each other. It's just a pity that Yoon Su can't be a part of it in the future (hoping for a sequel). 

Character Who Deserved More Screen Time : Lee Jae Kyu

Jae Kyu was one of my favourite characters from the start. I honestly thought he was going to die first because he seemed to be very close to the main protagonist (Moo Yul) and normally the main protagonist won't die but someone close to him will. For example, he was always around Moo Yul and helping him search the student records. 

Luckily, he didn't have to experience death. I also did not expect that Jae Kyu would be the sender of the letters. He seemed genuinely confused and out of place, having only transferred that spring. His fighting scene with Young Jae was thrilling and his blood-spattered face is just, cool. I really am a fan of that scene. Along with the snowball fight scenes (both the ones with and without Eun Sung), Jae Kyu and Young Jae's fighting scene is among my favourites. 

In this scene, we really see that moment of realization Jae Kyu faces when he looks into the mirror. He sees the monster in him and drops to his knees. You can feel the desperation and craze in his eyes. He longs to wash off his stains of cruelty but they don't come off easily. He lost himself. 

I sing praise for this drama for it is not your regular Korean drama. It is not predictable and though there are slight plot-holes on which the drama can be criticized on, the overall impact was enough to cover it up. It has much more of a real, human feel to it than many of the Korean dramas out there. I look forward to more good psychological, thriller finds in the Korean drama scene. Some people may find my praise for this drama to be exaggerated and overly-hyped but I stand by the fact that this is one of the best dramas I have ever watched and no one will be able to change my opinion. Also, I'd be happy to engage in any discussion in the comments below about the drama. 
by Unknown 14:47 32 comments | in , , , ,


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