God of Study: Episodes 3-4
I’m still not sure which drama I’m going to keep following on Mondays and Tuesdays. It’s tough, because they’re all in good-but-not-great territory for me, which makes it hard to just pick one to stick with. Despite God of Study‘s growing lead in the ratings, I still find it a little difficult to get through episodes. Half of it is enjoyable and sweet, but when it drags, it really drags. The entire cast of teachers is cartoonish and unfunny, so I’d rather not spend so much time on them, and I still can’t warm up to Seok-ho (Kim Su-ro). The best part of the drama has always been about the kids, so when they’re on, I’m entertained. But only when they’re on.
SONG OF THE DAY
God of Study OST – “Because I’m Weary” by Ernest. Come to think of it, this song alone may well account for half the drama’s entire appeal (for me). Even though I did spend the first few episodes wondering frustratedly, “Because I’m really what?!” [ Download ]
Name refresher, ’cause it’s always confusing at first:
|lawyer Kang Seok-ho
homeroom & English teacher Han Soo-jung
hot-tempered Hwang Baek-hyun
nice, normal girl next door Kil Pul-ip
B-boy Hong Chan-doo
sweet but clingy Na Hyun-jung
good-natured softy Oh Bong-gu
The special Chun Ha University prep class gets off to a dubious start: Seok-ho leaves the students to self-study time, giving them grade-school math books to work on. Other students come by to jeer at them, which is embarrassing for the five friends; Baek-hyun’s temper kicks in and he asserts himself with the ringleader, warning the guys not to lurk anymore. (Note that while all five friends find the taunting irritating, Baek-hyun is spurred into action when they pick on Pul-ip.)
The other teachers find this whole Chun Ha special class business annoying, and complain to principal Jang Mari. They barge in on the class and ask why they’re doing grade-school work. Soo-jung (who’s presiding as the secondary teacher) explains that they were tested and found lacking, so they’re supposed to work on the basics.
Seok-ho instructs Soo-jung not to let the Chun Ha class go home until they’ve finished solving the numerous math workbooks he assigned, so they grumble through the work that takes them late into the night. A little surprisingly, it’s Baek-hyun who urges his complaining friends to buckle down so they can finish quickly.
Despite Baek-hyun’s outer rebellious image, he feels indebted to Seok-ho for helping him with his housing problem, since he promised to stay in the class in exchange for his assistance. What he doesn’t know is that Seok-ho gave up his law office to come up with the money to pay for the house.
Seok-ho is out trying to recruit a teacher to his cause, and visits the cranky eccentric, Cha Ki-bong, to plead his case. He had once taught high school math, but turns down Seok-ho’s request and turns him away. Seok-ho persists, going back to remind him how he turned hopeless kids around with his stern teaching methods: “You saved countless children and made people out of them. I was one of them.”
Teacher Cha says that kids these days don’t respond to his tactics, but Seok-ho promises to abide by them. Won’t he help these kids who desperately need him?
Therefore, Seok-ho brings Teacher Cha to the school, their entrance greeted by lots of curious eyes. Teacher Cha addresses the class about their attitudes regarding math — he guesses that once they started to fall behind, math lots its appeal and now they hate it, considering it studying.
However, he tells them to change the way they view the subject — it’s more like a game. Don’t overthink the process, just throw your body into it. Math is like sports.
To get his point across, he tosses out a problem: the square root of six times the square root of three! The kids fumble as they trip over their thoughts, so Teacher Cha orders them to assume their positions as though playing a game of ping-pong. Math should be instantaneous, automatic, mechanical!
With that, they rally back and forth, throwing math problems at each other, faltering when thinking too hard and doing better when they relax enough to come up with the correct answer.
Seok-ho shakes things up further by telling the teachers that he, acting for the board of directors, will be testing them as well to judge whether they should remain as teachers. This hiring exam will take place in ten days. The teachers naturally protest and complain, including Soo-jung, who thinks he’s taking this way too lightly. Seok-ho counters that testing may seem arbitrary, but there are other very important things in life that are judged on the value of one test score, as students know. These teachers have been slacking off, considering it lucky if their students merely manage to graduate, not batting an eye when the kids don’t come to class or goof off during lessons.
Furthermore, he asks Jang Mari to take over Soo-jung’s English class to free her up for the special class. She’s the teacher with the most free time.
Seok-ho declares that over the next ten days, they will embark on an intensive “Sparta-like” training course, requiring them to eat and sleep at school. He sends them home to gather their belongings, and instructs them to return in the evening.
Over dinner, Grandma tells Baek-hyun that a lawyer (Seok-ho’s friend) came by to handle the special school loan that’ll help them keep their home. Baek-hyun looks suspicious at this, but keeps his thoughts to himself.
When Chan-doo starts to announce the ten-day training to his parents, they interrupt with news of their own: he’s being shipped off to America. His father has worked to get him into a good school in the States, and there’s no reason he should stay. Despite Chan-doo’s insistence that he doesn’t want to move to the U.S., his father is firm.
Chan-doo tells his dance troupe buddies, who are practicing for an upcoming competition, that his time will be short for the next week. He assures them that they can continue using their practice space, but they soon find that they are kicked out.
Pul-ip doesn’t even have the opportunity to tell her mother she’s going, since Mom’s too busy hanging out with her (married) boyfriend. (When her mother calls her the next morning to ask where she was, Pul-ip is mollified at the thought that her mother had worried. But instead, Mom gets on the phone and announces excitedly to her boyfriend that she’s free for the next ten days.)
Bong-gu gets wrapped up in working for his parents during the dinner rush, and doesn’t make it back to school. Seok-ho drops by to talk to his parents, who are surprised about the class. They say amiably that they’ve never pressured Bong-gu about school or studying; he’s not like other kids and they don’t need him to be good at schoolwork.
On the contrary, Seok-ho shows them Bong-gu’s books and points out that their son enjoys studying, but he’s not very good at it and hasn’t had the chance to do much of it. Mom and Dad say that they’ve never yelled at him for his bad grades, but Seok-ho counters that they should. Neglecting their son’s passion for studying is worse than punishing him. He tells Bong-gu that he can always work at the restaurant next year, but this may be his last time to cultivate his interest in studying.
And so, the class is assembled. They agree to take turns preparing meals, and the five friends (argh, I think I’m just gonna call them F5, heh) settle in for the night.
Baek-hyun, still bothered about the loan issue, gets up and walks out for some air, where he finds Pul-ip sitting by herself listening to music.
He joins her on the steps, and when she says she couldn’t sleep, he asks if she’s worried about something. Pul-ip answers that she’s not sure whether it was the right decision to join the class.
Half-joking that it was a bad decision, he grabs her mp3 player and makes fun of her old-fashioned taste in music. Pul-ip makes a playful grab for it, but their laughing camaraderie is cut short by the grumpy appearance of Hyun-jung. A little jealously, she asks what they’re doing here — did they purposely make plans to meet without her?
Hyun-jung and Baek-hyun aren’t dating, and it doesn’t even look like Baek-hyun likes her back; he seems to tolerate her clinginess since they’re all friends. But Pul-ip knows that her friend has staked her claim, so to ease the potential awkwardness, she hastily excuses herself to leave them together. She does, however, look at them wistfully at a distance, suggesting that she would feel freer to like Baek-hyun if not for her friend.
Baek-hyun defuses Hyun-jung’s displeasure by giving her his jacket, which is more to keep her from growing upset than a gesture of affection.
Seok-ho wakes up the crew early the next morning, putting them through laps around the athletic field and outlining their strict study schedule. He’s portioned out their day into blocks of time, with studying amounting to a total of 14 hours daily, for the duration of their training week. They’ll eat, sleep, and study together.
Teacher Cha’s strenuous teaching methods wear on the kids’ nerves. Baek-hyun is the first to talk back, retorting, “Are we calculators?” How can they just spout out math problem after math problem? But rather than finding his impertinence upsetting, Teacher Cha announces, yes! They have to get used to doing these computations in order for them to become automatic, as though they are, in fact, human calculators.
However, class is interrupted by the arrival of Chan-doo’s father, who is accompanied by a police officer. The officer charges Seok-ho with a complaint for fraud, but Chan-doo knows what this is all about. He stands up and tells his father, “I’ll go, all right? I’ll go to America.”
Chan-doo starts to pack his things, but Seok-ho orders him back to his seat — who told him he could leave? He repeats that until they’re accepted to Chun Ha, they can’t leave. He then sits down with Chan-doo’s father to discuss the matter, saying that Chan-doo’s math grades are abysmal — the highest he has ever scored on an exam is 52. He promises to ensure an 80 or above on his next test — and in that event, Chan-doo gets to stay.
Chan-doo protests, not having confidence that he can pull this off, but Seok-ho challenges him: “Do you want to go to America like this, like a cow to slaughter, with no care for your significance? You’ve never been able to have a proper dream, or stand up boldly. Do you want to run away like this? Are you going to disappoint these friends who care for you and walk out so irresponsibly?”
After some hesitation, Chan-doo tells his father he wants to give it a try — just see where the next ten days lead.
Seok-ho offers to sign a contract that states that if he can’t keep his promise to have Chan-doo score a 80% or above, he’ll take responsibility for whatever legal ramifications arise.
The pressure weighs on all the students, who start to bicker amongst themselves. Baek-hyun gripes that it’s a lost cause, and Chan-doo, overhearing, tells them he’s sorry to be the cause of trouble. That’s why he intended to leave quietly, but at the last moment he felt he wanted to at least try. He asks Baek-hyun to cut him some slack.
At lunchtime, Pul-ip finds Chan-doo on the roof, wanting to cheer him up. She brings him some food and says reassuringly, “Don’t be sorry. Even if not for you, Kang Seok-ho and Cha Ki-bong would have worked us really hard. For ten days, let’s give it our all.”
Baek-hyun has also come up to talk to Chan-doo — perhaps to strike a truce or apologize? He has been the most pessimistic of the bunch, but I think it’s because he is the most afraid to hope, like he would lose something of himself if he dared to hope and then lost. But he stops short when he sees his two friends being chummy. Love triangle alert!
For example, as the F5 group cook lunch together, Chan-doo reminds Pul-ip of how he had asked her out in first grade, and says he really meant it. When she jokes about him bringing it up now, he sighs that he’ll be leaving soon anyway, indicating that he’s not at all confident in being able to score that 80.
That night, Pul-ip overhears Baek-hyun on the phone with his grandmother, having a teasing but affectionate conversation. (Naturally, this is to show her that there’s more to Baek-hyun than meets the eye, although he wouldn’t show that side of himself willingly.)
Over the next few days, Seok-ho and Teacher Cha keep the kids on their training regimen, and the scores gradually climb, with the kids pulling in marks in the 70s, 80s, then 90s. Except for Chan-doo — his scores remain firmly stuck in the 55-60 range. Better, but just barely.
Teacher Cha sighs that their situation is dire, and they fear that Chan-doo isn’t making enough progress. It’s time to resort to the heavy guns.
That night, he takes Chan-doo to the gym, where he sits him down with a stack of tests. Until he can manage a perfect score, he will be stuck here. After all, calculations are all about concentration and focus, and Chan-doo isn’t doing that.
Everyone watches from the sidelines, anxious and feeling sorry the longer Chan-doo is stuck in that chair, bringing in imperfect scores. They’re there for hours, deep into the night. Still Teacher Cha doesn’t let up.
Baek-hyun leaves the room first, seemingly in frustration. But to his friends’ surprise, he returns with a desk and chair, and joins Chan-doo. He asks for a test, and soon, the other three join in.
It still takes some time, but at least Chan-doo is reinvigorated with this show of solidarity, and his scores start to rise — 92, 96, 98… and finally, he gets his perfect score.
At this point this lesson isn’t to teach him math, but more to prove that he can do it — and now, he knows that he can. Afterward, Chan-doo finds Baek-hyun outside, and thanks him for helping. (In characteristic Baek-hyun fashion, he’s uncomfortable with that and brushes it aside.)
In the following days, Chan-doo studies with new energy, solving math problems at all opportunities, even during mealtimes or in the bathroom. He even mutters math problems in his sleep. The teachers are impressed with his efforts, but worry that he may be up against his limit.
On the last night before the testing day, Pul-ip gets up from bed in the middle of the night and slips out. Baek-hyun, who is also awake, follows her out, quietly trailing behind as she leaves school grounds and goes home. She rummages through her things until she finds an old video tape, and then heads back to school.
Baek-hyun remains out of sight until they’re back at the gate — which is, unfortunately, now locked. Without a way to open the gate, he assists her over (with some difficulty), then climbs over himself.
In the morning, the other teachers all gather round to watch the testing session. They have been worried about Seok-ho’s hiring exam, and have been clinging to the hope that Chan-doo will fail to meet his 80% requirement. If he leaves for America, the class will automatically have to disband, and then Seok-ho won’t test the teachers either.
Chan-doo’s parents also sit in on the hour-long exam, watching as he sweats through the first part. All five students are taking the exam, but everyone’s focus is on Chan-doo, and they watch his anxious face nervously.
After a few moments of initial panic, he calms himself down by reminding himself of his lessons. Everything is part of a basic formula, and all he has to do is recognize that formula in order to solve the problem. With that realization, he approaches the exam with a relieved spirit.
After time is called, Chan-doo’s exam is scored, while everyone watches with bated breath. And when the score is revealed, he has merited a…. 79.
Seok-ho is disappointed, but he fully intends to honor his promise, which he assures Chan-doo’s father. The kids burst out that this is unfair, but Seok-ho is a man of rigid principles and he points out that however small the point difference, a test is a test and the results stand.
Just as the parents get up to leave, Pul-ip asks for a moment, and requests that they sit down to watch something. She puts a tape into the VCR to show a video of a day in kindergarten when the kids had performed for their parents, and Chan-doo’s father had stood up before the others to read him a letter. (Pul-ip’s conversation with Chan-doo earlier had jogged her memory about Chan-doo’s father.)
Chan-doo’s father, on camera: “My beloved youngest son Chan-doo. Maybe it’s because you were born late, but compared to your brother and sister, we feel a bit more affectionate with you. In particular, it always worried us that you were often sick since the time you were a baby. So when I hear your healthy laughter, I am content. I have nothing more to wish for in this world. They say these days that studying well is the best way to be a good son, but we only hope to see you be healthy. Thank you for being with us. We love you, Chan-doo.”
Pul-ip explains that she grew up without knowing the love of a father, and points out that Chan-doo grew up as they had wished — he has a really bright laugh. He’s been studying so hard — can’t they give him one more chance? The other kids all chime in, pleading for Dad to change his mind.
Chan-doo’s father isn’t wholly unmoved, but he keeps a stoic face. He tells them all they’ve worked hard, but walks out anyway. Chan-doo follows his parents out with a heavy heart.
The friends watch the family leaving the school, and Baek-hyun can’t contain his frustration. He yells after them angrily:
Baek-hyun: “Hey, Hong Chan-doo! Are you leaving? Are you a robot? Are you brainless? Fine, go then! Go and have a nice life in America!”
At that, Chan-doo’s father stops, and turns back to tell Chan-doo something. Walking off, he leaves Chan-doo behind, who faces his friends with slumped shoulders and a solemn face…
…which breaks out into a smile as he announces that his father told him to stay. He doesn’t have to go to America after all.
In excitement, the F5 group hug each other, welcoming him back.
Last of all, Seok-ho administers the teachers’ exam. He presents them with a blank piece of paper and instructs them to write on the topic of “school.” This is a much lighter test than they’d expected, and gives them the impression that Seok-ho isn’t really going to follow through on the exam. So they duly write their essays in a half-assed sort of way, then get up afterward to go out for a celebratory dinner together.
Only, Seok-ho stops them. Flipping through the essays, he has come to his conclusion: They’re all fired.
There are some things that really work for this drama, such as the students’ interactions outside of the classroom settings. (Ironic, given that this is a drama all about school?) Even though the love triangle (or rectangle) is pretty predictable, it’s drawn with some subtlety that I appreciate. This isn’t a romance drama, so angst isn’t going to be the backbone of the developments. They’re also young, so the stakes are (refreshingly) low, and they may not even be completely aware of their feelings yet on a conscious level. For instance, it’s pretty clear that Baek-hyun is starting to like (or likes) Pul-ip, but I doubt we’d get him to admit it. And Pul-ip’s not going to admit her feelings because of Hyun-jung. So while the feelings are there, they’re sorta latent at the moment, and we get to watch the characters suss them out for themselves. I look forward to that.
That kind of low-key development really works in a drama like this, because the plot is generally slice-of-life and the kids are so young. God of Study actually really benefits from the fact that these actors look young and helpless; it’s not like in shows where a 25-year-old plays 16, and acts 12 to overcompensate. (Ahem: Geum Jan-di.) Sometimes looks are a pivotal element of the acting, as they are here in lending the kids a sense of instability, that they really do need this class to find themselves and come into their own. (It’s also why I’m a little unsettled at how strict and hard Seok-ho treats them, like he’s manipulating their weaknesses to get them to psychologically bend to his will. Kim Su-ro plays him like a harsh disciplinarian in a way that makes me uneasy.)
Episode 4 was all about Chan-doo, which sets us up for the pattern of having each kid featured in turn. All five are so endearing that I look forward to seeing their attitudes change. This rotating plot machine is probably a good thing since I can’t see this drama having enough plot to fill up its running time otherwise, which is one of my big stumbling blocks with it. Everything is SO predictable that the only fun parts are the parts that don’t have to do with the special class, and unfortunately, most of the plot revolves around the special class. Will he test well? Will they learn their lessons? These are pretty simple conflicts — are we going to have a repeat of this every time they move from subject to subject? I really hope not.
There’s talk about this drama having a strong ajumma fanbase as though that’s surprising, but I think it’s only to be expected. This drama’s whole basis is predicated on the idea that success in life isn’t only about talent, it’s about effort. You may not be the smartest kid in class, but if you study, you too can go to the top university in the country. Also, it posits that studying holds the key to all future happiness. Moms must love it.
I mean, its message is practically ripped from mamas’ hearts the world over: Don’t complain that we’re pushing you, because that’s just an expression of our love! Don’t you know how many kids there are who would die to have parents who cared how they did in school? Look at these kids in the drama — look at Yoo Seung-ho! You don’t see HIM trying to get out of piano lessons and academy cram classes! He should be so lucky! Now shut up, clean your room, and study. You’ll thank me when you get into Harvard/Seoul University/blahblahblah.
I’m not convinced that this is a must-watch for me — it may fall into fast-forward territory. Because while I’m watching for the kids, the plots are tired and there’s really very little suspense — which would be fine if they didn’t then try to play UP the suspense. Example: it’s obvious that Chan-doo’s not going to leave the class, so the drama would be better served developing his relationship with his father or exploring his insecurities, etc., rather than hyping up a conflict that has no punch.
- God of Study emerges as leader on Mondays & Tuesdays
- New KBS dramas post strong re-broadcast numbers
- God of Study: Episodes 1-2
- The new Monday-Tuesday lineup: First impressions
- Yoo Seung-ho and Kim Su-ro play chicken in God of Study
- God of Study’s first posters released
- The young cast of God of Study
- Yoo Seung-ho’s God of Study