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White Christmas (2011)

“Are monsters born or are they made?”

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Title: White Christmas / Monster
Genre: Mystery, thriller
Episodes: 8
Director: Kim Yong Soo
Screenwriter: Park Yun Sun
Broadcast network: KBS2
Broadcast date: 2011-Jan-30 - 2011-Mar-20

Susin High is an extremely prestigious boarding school in the mountains, even harder to get into than Seoul National University. Only the very best students get to study in this school and because of that the atmosphere is extremely competitive leading them to only have one 8-day holiday in a year: Christmas break. A handful of students and a supervising teacher, however, stay in the school for the break as they all got a mysterious hate letter from someone and they’re out to investigate who’s behind it. On Christmas Eve they are joined by a psychiatrist, Kim Yo Han, after he had a car accident. Soon they all end up wrapped in a murder mystery fighting hard to save their lives.

“Are monsters born or are they made?” is the catch phrase for this drama as well as the core theme which the plot is built around. It is a question one of them wants to know the answer to by all means possible, turning the holiday into a game of life and death. In addition, it also focuses a lot on the teens relationships with each other.
I may have watched too many murder mysteries in the past and had completely different expectations on what this would be like, but its scenes hardly ever disappointed me. And while it’s only eight episodes long, it still moved on a rather peaceful pace which is not bad at all – unless you’re expecting an incredibly action-packed drama which this is not. By peaceful pace I mean that they weren’t rushing from one scene to another too fast nor did we get too into the plot too soon. It does include some rather violent scenes but is not as bloody as I expected it to be. The story also has a few twists of which many are, strategically, revealed quite early on already. Revealing a major detail around the half point of the drama already led to completely changing the rhythm of the drama and is the point of risk from where things could have started going downhill, but the writers managed to deal with it just fine for most of it. As one more additional comment I have to say that I found the theme extremely interesting, and the writers were definitely capable of keeping up the tension all the way until the final episode.

The cast mostly consisted of young and unknown actors which could either make or break the drama. In this case, their inexperience did occasionally show but overall they were a fresh change to all the star-filled dramas out there.
Kim Yo Han (played by Kim Sang Kyung): A psychiatrist who ends up accommodating himself at Susin High after getting slightly injured from a car accident. Kim Sang Kyung is the most experienced actor among them and it definitely shows with him playing his role convincingly, a role that would be so easy to go wrong with.
Park Moo Yul (played by Baek Sung Hyun): He is one of the honor students in the school, trying desperately to be the perfect son for his already dead mother, and the main character in this drama. At first I found Baek Sung Hyun’s acting slightly stiff but he got better once he fully got into his role.
Jo Young Jae (played by Kim Young Kwang): The bully trying to hide his insecurity behind a tough cover. Kim Young Kwang turned out to be one of the strongest actors in the cast, turning Young Jae into a lovable character despite all his wrong-doings.
Yoon Su (played by Lee Soo Hyuk): A deeply troubled boy who is a student in the school because his parents are one of the major donors for Susin High. Lee Soo Hyuk also played his character well, and Yoon Su was by no means one of the easier characters to play.
Lee Jae Kyu (played by Hong Jong Hyun): Transfer student who doesn’t necessarily bear only good thoughts of the other students. Hong Jong Hyun was the person who brought me to this drama and there were moments when he did a stunning job as Jae Kyu and then some others when his performance was slightly underwhelming.
Kang Mi Reu (played by Kim Hyun Joong): A wild and adventurous student who also goes by the name of Mad Mi Reu and isn’t actually even supposed to be at the school anymore. The Kim Hyun Joong who plays the role is not the leader of SS501 but a model with the same name. He does a great job as one of the funniest character in the drama.
Choi Chi Hoon (played by Sung Joon): The best student of the school with exceptional level of intelligence but lacking skills in emotional department. While Chi Hoon sort of became my favourite character, Sung Joon’s performance was rather wooden and emotionless, although of course that’s what might have been what is expected when playing a character like this.

In general the writing is pretty well done although there are points when it stumbles. The language used is mostly the way young adults of these days speak with each other, although it's made obvious at several points - especially with Choi Chi Hoon - that they're all very smart. An example of this would be them talking about human brains during a dinner. The characters, on the other hand, are written so that they mostly present themselves in a quite gloomy atmosphere, sometimes in panic but very rarely do they have positive moments. Together with the directing and acting, the writing creates a good and working package.

Is it worth watching?
While it might not have had hype going over it, and isn’t filled with a cast full of stars, it provides a somewhat unique plot and is a fresh breeze in the world of k-dramas. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but is definitely something worth giving a try.

Grading: 8.5/10



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