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Dream High (2011)
Six talented high schoolers come together at Kirin Arts High School to pursue their dreams of being singers. All of them are talented, and all of them want fame. But only one of them is going to be the mysterious K, the first South Korean artist to win a Grammy.
Title: 드림하이 / Dream High
Genre: School, drama, comedy, romance
Broadcast: 2011-Jan-03 to 2011-Feb-28, KBS2
Dream High is a perfect example of when the story is standard, but the execution elevates it to exceptional. It follows these six students as they form friendships and rivalries and crushes, deal with success and failure, and overcome the obstacles to their dreams, against the background of the cutthroat South Korean entertainment industry. There are a few flaws – the premise isn’t very original and the plot twists are rather predictable. But what the writer does beyond this is to make you care about the characters, to keep you engaged, and to make the whole thing fresh throughout. And it’s so much fun – there are songs and dance-offs, bromances and romances, to keep you on the edge of your seat. It also focuses a very witty eye on the industry itself (because the majority of the cast are idol stars themselves). What I personally liked is that not only is the drama fun, fun, fun, it tackles some of the more serious issues of showbiz. The writer explores situations in an industry where image and marketability come before talent, where the pressure to perform is intense, and the competition can crush your integrity.
In the end, Dream High isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s a thoroughly satisfying watch with humor and heart.
Alas, the acting is the major flaw of Dream High. The majority of the cast are idols, which means they can carry the choreography, but often fall flat in delivering emotion. However, the three teachers in the adult cast (Eom Ki Jun, Lee Yun Ji, Park Ji Young) are consistently solid and anchor the drama, and provide much of the guidance and heart for the youngsters. Note: the band names are in parentheses next to the actor.
Kim Su Hyun as Song Sam Dong: Kim is the sole exception to the idol cast, being the only serious actor. And it shows here: he’s consistently on the spot with his character and really delivers. What makes it better is that Sam Dong undergoes the greatest transformation, and Kim is great all the way through.
Ham Eun Jung (T-ara) as Yoon Baek Hee: She’s not the female lead, but I’m putting Ham next in terms of acting ability. She’s starred in a drama before, and the experience shows. Baek Hee is the best-friend-turned-rival, and Ham plays her intensity well. She’s driven to perform by pride as well as ambition, and she learns something about integrity along the way.
Suzy (Miss A) as Go Hye Mi: Hye Mi is our first misfit, the rich girl with the opera dreams who finds that finances force her into the lowly idol-maker school. She learns to hang on to her dreams while letting go of her pride, and learns friendship. Suzy, sadly, often has an emoting problem, but then the drama makes a running joke about ‘Go Hye Mi’s robot face’, and I kind of forgave it.
Taecyeon (2PM) as Jin Gook/Hyun Shi Hyuk: He’s the most typical of drama leads, with a troubled family background and white-knight tendencies. Nevertheless, he’s loyal, and making the choice between ambition and friendship is hard for him. Taecyeon isn’t quite up to his character yet, but he’s improved from his early days; and hey, he certainly looks the part of a boy-band idol.
Wooyoung(2PM) as Jason: He’s the golden boy, the one who doesn’t need to make any effort to get results. He also has things to learn about hard work and ambition. Wooyoung, like his bandmate, fits the character well enough that he’s believable.
IU as Kim Pil Suk: Pil Suk is the most obvious misfit, being very overweight despite having an amazing voice. She’s the vehicle through which the other characters learn to appreciate talent over looks, even as she struggles in an industry which often does the opposite. IU plays her with a sincerity and sweetness that make Pil Suk the most likeable of the lot.
The premise isn’t very glorious, but the directing certainly makes it seem so. The camera captures all the best angles of the screen and the actors. Plus, the director adds cute visual animations and motifs that let us into the minds of the characters, and to help viewers visualize the music.
The choreographer and costume designer deserve mentions too, because nearly every episode features a dance. The dances are often symbolic, too – like the snake vs. bird dance midway through the drama between rival dance teams. The OST is fun and catchy, and for the main part, it’s sung by the cast.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) Park Jin Young. As the teacher Yang Jin Man who reluctantly finds himself having fun teaching the underdogs, he’s quirky and eccentric and hilarious. And he adds to the meta: In real life, Park Jin Young is a producer with his hands in the idol-making industry, and helped produce the drama.
2) The song and dance sequences. It’s idol stars doing their thing, so naturally it’s catchy and fun. But more than that, they’re exciting, as the drama piles on the stakes with each dance-off.
3) The pop culture references. Since it’s set in showbiz, the drama often makes cracks at the real-life industry, with its pop stars and actors and producers. They’re sly, but if you catch them, it’ll crack you up.
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