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Queen’s Classroom: Series review

Queen’s Classroom isn’t the sort of drama we’re used to seeing on primetime television, which is perhaps why it flew under the radar when it premiered on MBC earlier this summer. Even though it pulled in low but decent numbers (managing to at least beat out Sword and Flower when the two were in direct competition), the lack of buzz surrounding this show is understandable—with no central romance and a cast comprised mostly of child actors, becoming a hit just wasn’t in the cards. And that’s okay, because what matters most after a drama has come and gone is whether it will stand the test of time, and I have no doubt that Queen’s Classroom will.

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Queen’s Classroom OST – SHINee “Green Rain” [ Download ]

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I’m coming into this review late because I came into this show weeks after it finished airing, and through pitiful circumstances—I plug currently airing dramas into a randomizer app and let it choose which pilots I should watch, both in an effort to broaden my horizons and because it’s frighteningly easy to allow robot overlords to make decisions for me.

So while I only watched the first episode of Queen’s Classroom because of chance, the fact that a show I was initially disinterested in became one of my favorite shows of the year serves as a sobering reminder that hype, numbers, and tons of big name stars aren’t what makes a show memorable or even great (though they’re very nice to have)—it’s whether that story speaks to you, whether you connect with the characters enough to celebrate their victories and mourn their sorrows, and whether the show leaves you inspired and maybe even a little awed after the final credits have rolled.

However unexpected, Queen’s Classroom was that show for me, so while I’d love to avoid all spoilers in this review, I also want to be able to talk about the show, so some spoilers will be unavoidable. It shouldn’t be too overwhelming even for those who’d still like to watch, but ye hath been warned.

The central premise is simple: A hard-nosed teacher takes over an underachieving class of sixth graders using unorthodox methods that run the gamut from emotionally manipulative to just plain cruel and unusual. Students who rebel against her are punished, students who stand up for those unfairly punished are also punished, and those who give in receive good marks but find themselves alienated from their other classmates.

School-based dramas can pick and choose which issues they’d like to focus on, like interpersonal relationships between classmates, commentary on Korea’s rigid educational system, issues like bullying and drug abuse, etc. While Queen’s Classroom is undoubtedly about school life, its message spans further to delve not only into the human condition, but to also explore how the lessons we truly learn are the ones we can’t necessarily be taught.

It’s like the idiom about leading a horse to water, except with a teacher who’s not content to simply tell her students what they should do, and is instead willing to let them suffer, sometimes immeasurably, so that they can come to their own conclusions and grow from their experiences. The fact that she does this to elementary school students—children—makes one severely question her tactics.

But in the world of this drama and the larger world of education, kids in sixth grade aren’t allowed to just be kids. They’re expected to make high grades to get into the best colleges so that they can get the best jobs so that they can be the richest and most successful. Happiness? Unnecessary. From Episode 1, we see that these kids are blocked in on all sides, with society, their parents, classmates, and their school pressuring them to be sure of what they want to do for the rest of their lives (already!) and work toward it. Today is but a small sacrifice we make for tomorrow.

THE TEACHER

At the core of the story is Teacher MA YEO-JIN (Go Hyun-jung), whom the students refer to as “The Witch.” She’s strict with everything from her own routines to the way she dresses, since she’s always covered head to toe in a black skirt suit and simple black heels. She never smiles genuinely, is rigidly polite to her colleagues, and is only conversational when speaking with her students’ parents.

Her teaching philosophy in the beginning is one of abject discrimination—instead of considering all the students equal, she shows favoritism to the smart students and scorn to the underachieving ones, going so far as to make them perform the class’ physically laborious chores so that the smarter students can have more time to study. The benefits for the smarter students include but are not limited to: no chores, the ability to pick their seats, and being first in line for lunch.

This system of discrimination is Teacher Ma’s way of preparing her students for the real world, one which rewards winners and unfairly discriminates against losers. That’s the society we all live in, and she lays it out for them as such: “No matter how much you complain, the world is not going to change.” Conform or die.

Mystery shrouds Teacher Ma and her background from the beginning, and as a character she remains utterly fascinating until the finale, helped immensely by Go Hyun-jung’s masterful performance. She’s a cipher, and one that doesn’t even hint at emotions brewing beneath the surface most times—her poker face is just too good for that. Even so, I never once felt frustrated by being unable to read her, since the audience follows the point of view of the children. We only know as much as they do, and are left to piece together the rest of the clues on our own.

It’s rewarding and satisfying then that the show maintains that air of mystery around her until the end without making us feel cheated. A clear-cut and detailed explanation of her psyche would do her character an injustice, because her intrigue is part of her charm. Instead we learn about her bit by bit, like how she was imprisoned for hitting a student (though all is not what it seems), and that she wears such concealing clothing in order to cover up huge scars.

While not explicitly said, the show seems to hint that her scars were caused when her only son died. I assumed they might have been burn scars, but it’s interesting how that one fact became the basis for my understanding of Teacher Ma, because we never see a flashback or even a picture. But just to know that she was once a mother and that she moved on to teach children tells us that she does, in fact, has a great love for children beneath her icy exterior.

And as the story progresses, we learn that she loves children more than anything, and that the same students she derided and blackmailed with the files she kept on them (yes, full-fledged, blackmail-ready files of all their activities) are students that she loves with her whole heart, in her own way. Of course, it’s not in a way she shows outwardly as much as in her restraint and her unrelenting rein on her own emotions that we get a sense for how she really feels.

One of the things I loved about this show (aside from everything) was that it felt so complete and relatively free from the obvious signs of live shoot, like rushed cuts or weird story turns aimed to either please the audience or piss them off. This may have to do with the fact that most of the cast was underage and couldn’t work the same insane hours as most adults do in the drama industry (officially, kids are exempt from all-night shooting and are limited to forty hours of work a week). Or, it could just be that this was simply a quiet, understated show that knew the story it wanted to tell from the beginning and told it. Period.

I bring that up especially in relation to Teacher Ma and how she retained her character integrity throughout the entire run. She began as a very unconventional drama heroine and remained that way without undergoing a sudden reboot (ala Eun-ki 3.0 in Nice Guy), or a gradual transformation into a more openly caring person that we could all like without any reservations. Translation: Boring.

Some of the novelty factor might owe itself to Jyoou no Kyoushitsu, the original Japanese drama this show is based on, and despite having not seen the original show it’s nice to see an adaptation that isn’t terrible. But, the same quality I liked about Teacher Ma can also be a point against the show, in that as a protagonist she didn’t really seem to have an arc, nor did she undergo a transformation. Outwardly she remained the same while the students did the growing.

And while that may be true, I actually liked how Teacher Ma stayed true to herself even in the show’s final moments. I didn’t feel deprived of an arc, and have nothing but praises to sing for Go Hyun-jung’s delicate portrayal of Teacher Ma during the more emotional moments of the show—without her needing to say it or show it, we knew that she was deeply affected by her students. How is harder to explain, but the point is that her emotional payoffs—however small and hard to spot—were understatedly effective and genuine.

THE STUDENTS

Child actors—they’re everywhere! We see them in almost every drama and recognize the usual suspects’ faces and names by now, with dramas like The Moon That Embraces the Sun leaving audiences wanting more meaty story lines and screen time for such capable young actors. Suffice to say there’s always consistent work for child actors in a drama industry which loves to spend episodes upon episodes on childhood backstories.

And for a show that’s centered around its child actors, Queen’s Classroom did a fantastic job in the casting department by cherry-picking the best and brightest young actors to take on the very complicated and demanding roles required of them. Because so much of this show is reliant upon understated character interactions rather than grander plot movements, any failure in the acting department could’ve easily tanked this show. But since that didn’t happen, Queen’s Classroom also gets my vote for being one of the most strongly-acted dramas of the year. If you believe nothing else I’ve said about this show so far, believe me when I say that the acting in this drama is superb.

Though we get to know almost every student individually in Teacher Ma’s class, the story specifically revolves around four very different students who start out as near-strangers before they eventually bond and form lasting friendships with each other.

We start off by meeting the cheerful SHIM HANA (Kim Hyang-gi), an average student who values friendship and loyalty above all else, including her school performance. She’s well-liked but not popular, friendly, and comes from a home with a doting mother, an older sister, and an unconcerned (and possibly cheating) father.

She and Teacher Ma are at direct odds for most of the series, since Teacher Ma’s philosophies place no value in friendship or kindness, or how much heart you have. While Hana always means well, she feels she must defeat Teacher Ma in order to show her that she and the other students are not her puppets—so she’s the one that instigates the class, or her individual group, into failed rebellion after failed rebellion.

Hana makes an unlikely friend and ally in KIM SEO-HYUN (Kim Sae-ron) when she stands up for Hana when Teacher Ma refuses to let her go to the restroom. Even when faced with the threat of punishment if she were to side with Hana, Seo-hyun helps Hana outside, where it turns out she wasn’t lying about needing to go since she ends up going in the hallway.

Therefore, Seo-hyun sees Hana at one of her most pitiful moments and helps her regain her footing, which instantly lets us know that while Seo-hyun is the smartest student in the class, she still doesn’t quite fit in. But unlike Hana, Seo-hyun doesn’t care about fitting in, since she’s clearly used to marching to the beat of her own drum.

Normally aloof and uninterested, Seo-hyun’s cold exterior starts to melt the more she’s around Hana and the rest of the Underdog Group. Like the other three students (two of whom haven’t been introduced here yet), she has an interesting arc and her own emotional baggage to deal with.

I like that we see bits of Seo-hyun’s personality and her desire for individuality when faced with Teacher Ma’s message of conformity and obedience. During one of Hana’s failed class coups (she tries to get all her classmates to boycott a school dance recital, but everyone ends up obeying Teacher Ma in the end), Seo-hyun doesn’t go with the rest of her classmates when they all leave Hana, simply explaining that she didn’t want to do what Teacher Ma told them to.

It’s sweet because you know Seo-hyun stuck around because she feels a sense of loyalty to Hana, who serves as a kind of beacon for the other underdogs to gather around. One of Hana’s most loyal friends turns out to be class clown OH DONG-GU (Chun Bo-geun).

Another interesting facet of this show is how we get to know each child and their parents in everyday slice-of-life situations, which informs who they are and how they behave at school. Dong-gu could be classified as a troublemaker, but he’s a good-hearted kid who mostly just doesn’t care about good grades or success. An orphan abandoned by his mother, Dong-gu has been raised by a kindly and effeminate bar-owning grandpa he calls “Madame Oh.” (The “madame” part is not a typo.) We’ll come back to this in a bit.

Dong-gu’s big breakthrough comes early in the series, when we see him being bullied relentlessly by some older kids from another school. When he asks Teacher Ma for advice on how to deal with bullies (unaware that she’s watched him be beaten), she tells him that if he doesn’t have the strength to fight back, which he doesn’t, he should just surrender to them. But in surrendering he’d be risking his life in the hopes that his courage will win over the bullies’ cowardice.

So Dong-gu does as she says, and faces the bullies by giving in to all the beatings they can dish out. He endures the pain until the bullies stop, afraid that one more kick will kill Dong-gu, and this scares them enough to leave him alone for good. Dong-gu is therefore victorious, even as he’s bloody and bruised and half-dead from the attempt.

What’s really striking about this scene and what it says about Teacher Ma’s character is that she watched it happen. She knew Dong-gu would get beaten and did nothing to help him, not even after the fight was over. While this initially seems harmless, it’s also our first crash course on Teacher Ma’s education philosophy—no other teacher in their right mind would stand by and let that happen. It’s almost insane to defend her, only… she was right. With her advice, Dong-gu permanently overcame his bullying problem.

Last but not least, there’s EUN BO-MI (Seo Shin-ae), a quiet and awkward loner that the school acknowledges and does nothing about, figuring that that’s just her lot in life. Teacher Ma tackles this problem differently, and I’ll admit that her usual tactic of tearing the student down so that they can build themselves back up again wasn’t as clear in Bo-mi’s situation, but that was the only time where I literally asked the screen, “Why, again?”

Example: Bo-mi makes friends with Hana, and is grudgingly tolerated by all of Hana’s friends. Teacher Ma points out the fact that Bo-mi is just a pet project for Hana and that she has no real friends, urging Bo-mi to become her personal spy in exchange for good marks and Ma’s personal protection. In a moment of weakness, Bo-mi agrees, and by being Ma’s spy she only further alienates herself from her classmates. Somehow this strengthens Bo-mi as a person, and her classmates accept her back (and fully this time) better for the experience. I’m still not quite sure how that all happened, only that it did.

Whether Teacher Ma’s methods are right or wrong is ultimately left up to us and the students to decide. Her strategies for instigating each child’s personal growth are sometimes horrendous, though the show does a good job of showing and dealing with each and every transformation. The problem is, so much damage is done in the Learning Period precluding most of the lessons the students learn, like when Hana was being mercilessly bullied by her former friend and Teacher Ma did nothing to stop it. She did nothing until that girl was soaking the classroom in gasoline, ready to burn it all down.

Basically, Teacher Ma sends each student to the brink before she brings them back, because only when they’re at their lowest can the kids truly invoke the kind of fundamental change they need in order to become better people—at least, that’s how the show sells it. I never had a problem with the issues the students faced, because each individual problem was rooted in that student’s character, and all that came across clearly and genuinely. (As opposed to feeling manufactured, an issue I had with School 2013‘s presentation of some common school problems like smoking, bullying, pill-popping, etc. Queen’s Classroom handles a lot of like issues, but in a way that’s subtle and less like the scriptwriter based plots off the high school knowledge they gleaned from Degrassi.)

If I had any reservations about the conflict resolutions, it was about how easily some of the students were accepted back into the fold after they’d learned their requisite life lesson and apologized for their wrongdoings. I found it to be unrealistic at first that broken bonds could be so easily mended and grudges forgotten, but then it’s also been a while since I was a kid, so, yeah. Eventually I just bought the idea that the kids forgave more easily because they’re less jaded than adults, and because they were all learning and growing together enough to understand each other even at their worst.

GROWN-UPS AND STUFF

Through each of the children’s lessons, we learn more about the depth of Teacher Ma’s dedication to them. She understands each of them better than they do themselves or even their parents, which is a handy asset for the children since society places extreme importance upon obeying one’s parents.

Most of the parents we meet (aside from Hana and Dong-gu’s) are extremely controlling of their children and just as extremely out of touch with what their children really want. Throughout the series and despite Teacher Ma impressing upon the kids the need for conformity, what turns out to actually be the case is that Teacher Ma is using that to challenge them into finding themselves as individuals outside of their parent’s desires so that they find the courage to stand up for themselves and become the person they want to be, instead of what their parents want them to be.

It’s this dangerous method that puts Teacher Ma on Na-ri’s Mom’s shit list, since her investigating Teacher Ma’s dark past serves as the catalyst to Ma getting audited by the Board of Education and punished for her discriminatory ways, which serves as this show’s Real World Check when it comes to the job of a teacher and what is and isn’t acceptable, no matter whether Teacher Ma was truly helping more than the average teacher or not. (My opinion: She was. Could she have accomplished what she did another way? Who knows.)

By this point the students know just how much Teacher Ma has helped them, which helps them to rally together to fight for her for the first time instead of fighting against her. It’s just hard to tell people that the teacher who may-have-almost driven you to suicide was really just using an alternative method to help you instead! True as that is in this show’s warped case, it’s hard to make that sound positive—and the show knows it and addresses it, which I definitely appreciated, even if I was as sad as the students were about the outcome.

Out of all the kids, Dong-gu and Seo-hyun had the biggest family issues, with Dong-gu being adopted and Seo-hyun’s father starting out in a vegetative state. I like that the two of them really discovered each other during their shared parental woes, because there’s a kind of kinship inherent there when their mothers and society in general place so much importance on the nuclear family unit.

Dong-gu’s adoptive-and-gender-confused grandfather is about as far away from a normal family as one could get, but there’s no less love because of it—in fact, Madame Go’s love for his adopted grandson is one of the sweetest relationships in the entire show. When he later finds out that he’s dying of a terminal illness, his chief worry is that Dong-gu will have to go back to the orphanage when he leaves this world. And Dong-gu, being the miniature man he is, takes all this like a champ because of the inner strength he already possessed. Teacher Ma only helped him to find it again.

For a little while, Seo-hyun is the only one who knows that Dong-gu’s grandfather is dying, which makes it extra sweet when she volunteers to do Dong-gu’s after school chores so he can spend as much time as possible with Madame Go. Seo-hyun, out of all the other students, understands the pain of losing a parent and helps Dong-gu out of her genuine good heart, because he helped her when her dad was dying. It’s these little interpersonal touches, like Seo-hyun and Dong-gu’s friendship, that make this show so special.

If I could only pick one big breakthrough moment for Teacher Ma out of so many good ones, it’d have to be when Hana accidentally spots her standing outside a karaoke bar. Because all of the underdog team’s attempts to spy on Teacher Ma failed in the past and because we only see Teacher Ma’s life at the school and not outside of it (but when you do get that one glimpse, whoa, it’s powerful), we’re as clueless as Hana when we see her waiting outside a nightlife hot spot.

Since she looks so out of place with her stoic demeanor and conservative clothing, Hana hears employees gossip that Teacher Ma must be waiting to catch a cheating husband. But what we see is exactly the opposite—she’s been going every night to catch a hostess girl before she goes into the bar to work… and that hostess girl turns out to be Dong-gu’s mother.

That’s when it all really comes crashing down—that Teacher Ma, well aware that Dong-gu will eventually be returned to the orphanage, tracked down his mother to try and convince her to take responsibility for her son. Not only that, but she’s been coming to this karaoke bar every night for who-knows-how-long because she loves Dong-gu enough, because she loves all of her students that much, enough to devote her every waking hour to helping them, enough to where she can confidently hold a suicidal and lonely student’s hand as he stands before an oncoming subway and declare that if she can’t stop him, she won’t abandon him to die alone.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Before I type this next sentence, I feel like I have to clarify one thing: I’m not usually a crybaby when it comes to dramas, no matter how much (and especially when) they’re out for your tears. I’m actually pretty sure that the last time I had a genuinely good drama cry was during Queen In-hyun’s Man, which is kind of embarrassing.

That being said—I cried a lot during this show. And if there weren’t crocodile tears pouring from my eyes, I’d at least be sniffling for most of any given episode. It got so bad that I even started to wonder whether a show could just be that touching for sixteen hours straight, or whether I was just so scarred from watching Shark and Sword and Flower that the sight of any drama that wasn’t those two could seem beautiful enough to bring me to tears.

Therefore, I feel like I can’t speak to the show’s power to tug on the heartstrings objectively, since a drama’s ability to move us is largely dependent on, well, us. And unsurprisingly, we all react to dramas in different ways—like my friend who will still, to this day, tear up the second she hears the theme song for Brilliant Legacy—not because the drama was just that good (trust me, I saw it), but because it managed to connect with her on a gut level somehow. Maybe through hypnosis, who knows.

And when I thought about it all of two seconds ago, I realized that this is only my second series review ever, so it seems fitting that though my first review came from a place of anger (Bachelor’s Vegetable Store was so bad it was inspiring), my second one came from a place of admiration and respect.

So if a show can be so gut-wrenchingly terrible that one is compelled to write thousands of words explaining why, then Queen’s Classroom is so uplifting and heartwarmingly good that thousands of words can’t do it justice. But if I could only pick a few, they’d be from Teacher Ma’s final lecture to her students:

Don’t waste today fearing for tomorrow. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. And above all else, do what makes you happy.

 
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Thanks for the review..

I always wanted to watch this drama but due to my busy schedule, I didn't get time.....

Maybe I'll pick this up at a later stage....

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snow white you should watch this one, or at least read the recap. I was so touched of every advise given by Teacher Ma in her own way. Those mostly are long lines, but the children understood well. I cried almost in every episodes since it did straight to the heart. I know perhaps I am the one who can't help it.

The most beautiful yet painful individual stories were Oh Dong Go and Seo Hyun family life. I only read the recaps and I cried bucket

I haven't watch or read the original one, jdrama. I prefer not to as I am not comparing person.

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it looks very touching....I'll give this a try....

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I would love to hear and see (for the english sub) Teacher Ma's quotes. I hope they will not be lost in translations. Would watch this next =)

I also teared up, specially during the suicide attempt. Gosh, if that already tugged at my heart and make me cry...on second thought i'll watch this during the Christmas break so that i don't need to report to the office bug-eyed from crying.

Thanks HeadsNo2

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".. hype, numbers, and tons of big name stars aren’t what makes a show memorable.."

And that is so VERY true in this case. Over the course of the past few years, I have watched probably hundreds of Asian dramas and movies, mostly Korean.

And this is one of the very few that sticks in my mind, and that I can actually recall nearly every important event and happening. There are very few other shows I can say that about. Even some of the blockbusters that I thought were pretty good at the time I have largely forgotten. (In fact, I find my self already forgetting most of the plot in "Heirs", assuming there actually is one).

Some of the few others that have made such an impact on me are "A Thousand Days Promise", "49 Days", and "! Litre of Tears (J-drama). On the other end there are a few hyped and popular at the time shows that I cannot recall a thing about - just a few days ago I was watching some older series' on DF, and was into ep3 of one before I realized I had seen it before...

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Yes, its completely true I still remembering Credentials wife because its story and the cast were wonderfull no matter how famous they are in dramaland.
Now I am watching Thank you a bit old 2007, where a child with AIDS robes your heart with the plot and the cast is brilliant on it...

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I hated the teacher with all my guts and thought she was a psycho before I realized what happened and felt sorry for her. I really quite like this drama. I especially liked Lee Young-Yoo's acting here, when she's bitchy she plays bitchy better than some older actress.

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*actresses

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Oh yeah. For sure. I had to constantly remind myself she was just a 6th grader and had to dial down my hate for her character. I don't believe in hurting others to protect yourself no matter how much stress you undergo as a spoiled little rich kid.
I have to hand it to lee young yoo though. She definitely played the bitchy character better than some of the older actresses, imo.

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It's too bad that Teacher Ma was not in charge of teaching all the (fake) teenagers in Heirs - perhaps they would have learned something. :)

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Ah, I really thought a LOT about Teacher Ma. I've watched only four or five episodes, and I actually forgot about it since my schedule picked up. But, I found her very thought-provoking since I too teach. And found our underlying philosophies more similar than dissimilar.

I'm always amazed by warm teachers who inspire positively and make you feel capable of anything. I definitely benefited from having such teachers. But I also find myself wanting to prepare my students for a life full of inequalities and injustices. I find myself wanting to teach them lessons I didn't learn until I was in my late 20s and early 30s, and learned the way hard way.

So, HeadsNo2, thank you for the reminder to go back and finish watching this.

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I thought she has some powers or something because of the butterfly that always flies in the episode.. hehe

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Oh, thank you for the review. I had been wondering about this drama, but I didn't have the time to watch it while it was airing.

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I watched it, it's still as poignant as the japanese version but for some reason I think the J-actress looks more like the part. GHJ's facial structure is rounder and makes her look gentle for some reason, hahaha.

The child actors' acting is superb. I thought I wouldn't like it cos it got the same plot as j-version but it still entertained me. I love KSR's portrayal as Seohyun and CBG as Dong-Gu, KHG did well too as Hana even though her character is not my favorite.

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I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

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This drama is so good!

First you hate Teacher Ma then you get to understand her character and realize she has her reasons behind her actions. Then the children punches you in the gut with each of their stories. Dong-gu was such a character that I really loved and hated Teacher Ma even more when he was picking on him but well, she had her reasons.

The child actors really carried the show well, they brought to life all those characters that I sure will never forget. It's nice to see them from beginning to end instead of those first few episodes stints they get when playing the younger selves of main drama characters.

My mom is a grade school teacher and she really liked this drama, I guess that's why she understood Teacher Ma more than I did in the first few episodes and how she viewed each child in the drama was different.

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Forgive me for ragging on Heirs so much, but I fell in love with the kids in this drama, but find myself largely indifferent to those in Heirs - they just don't seem real. In Queen all the kids came across as having real life issues that real people would face, and not a bunch of plot-manufactured fake angst.

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Thank you for the review! =)

I loved this drama so much =)

Yes, the methods of Ma were very questionable and yes some students were accepted back way too easily but the life lessons the kids learned were precious!

I cried a lot too because this show just knew how to tug one's heart (and recalling this drama through this review made me tear up again^^) and damn those child actors... They were A-MA-ZING!!!
I guess if one or two of the main characters would have been bad in the acting department I would have quit the show. But they all did a wonderful job and breathed life into their characters!

QC was actually not on my most wanted list but I checked it out anyway (I liked Kim Sae Ron in Ahjussi and Barbie so she was the reason I tuned in). What I got was a very addictive drama that I was as much looking forward to as I was to 'I hear your voice'.

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I'm thrilled you decided to review this show. It's a lovely piece and I also found myself tearing up repeatedly. I was particularly impressed by the gutsy decision to give most of the emotional heavy lifting to the child actors. I expected it to be a star vehicle for Go, and while she's certainly central she's more of a catalyst than a protagonist. Having taught for years, I believe that young people are far stronger and more perceptive than we give them credit for and I appreciated the show 's willingness to take its students seriously. While not every moment works,this is definitely worth watching, regardless of how you ultimately feel about Teacher Ma.

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"While she’s certainly central she’s more of a catalyst than a protagonist."
Absolutely agree. It ties in with her response to why she chose teaching as her mission. She said it herself, that she serves as a guide to the children that grow up to change the world for the better.

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Thanks for the recap. The J version is one of my favorite dramas and I was afraid to watch the k version. I can not think of one j to k adaptation that I have truly enjoyed ( BFF would be the closest). I may give this one a try. Thanks again.

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Me too! I dislike remakes because unconsciously I am comparing the two. I might just give this one a shot because I enjoyed the Japanese version so much.

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This is one of the very few (or perhaps the only) adaptations where I though the K version was better.

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Watched every single episodes and loved every minute of it. Thank you so much for your review.

Go Hyun-jung never disappoints and my little cutie patootie Chun Bo Geun was adorable. as ever. Loved the main charaters played by Kim Hyang Gi and Kim Sae Ron. Heck, I loved them all and I cant wait to see them in new dramas.

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Thanks for ur review! I was thinking to watch this after my exams....

But back to my books for now....

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I love it when you guys do reviews of shows that haven't been recapped but i've thoroughly enjoyed. This show was that underrated monster that was barely ever discussed or talked about, what with the more popular hit IHYV airing the same time(which i absolutely loved, btw).

The child characters/actors --
In my opinion, Dong Gu had the most poignant storyline. The fact that Chun Bo Geun played the goofy carefree kid so well just made it even more moving and heart-wrenching when he cried, or when we learned about his life. Madame Oh and him wrenched out most of my tears, tbh. I cried, alot too. I wasn't really expecting it, but these child actors were too good that they really took me to a different place emotionally. Perhaps this is why it might've had such a big impact on you, heads. It was a different world, Queens Classroom. Unlike your usual k-dramaland landscape.

Shim Hana was (for me) the most frustrating character of the series because of her relentless effort to sacrifice herself to protect her backstabbing classmates. Although i favored Dong goo over her, Kim Hyang Gi(hana) was probably the strongest child actor out of the bunch, imo. Her expressions were some of the most natural i've seen amongst child actors and those tears -- man, they were instant.

One of my most re-occuring frustrations with this show was (like you) how easily they made up. Yes, they were kids, and thus more likely to be forgiving. But the writer has made the betrayals/conflicts amongst these kids SO substantially detrimental that i personally found it hard to swallow that they could return to a place they were before(relationship-wise).

Our heroine, Hana, definitely had it the worse. But even more frustrating was that it took double the amount of time for her to be bullied and isolated than it was for the other kids. Mind you writer, Go Na Ri (the bitchy one) went ham and only had to suffer it for about an episode. Maybe even less.

Even so, the growths were tremendous among the children that by the time we neared towards the end, i had realized that they all went through so much to get to where they were now. I was glad to follow them in this journey, but it was definitely not an easy journey as a viewer.

At times, i had questioned teacher Ma's methods. This show took what you would call tough love to a whole other level. I had wondered what results teacher ma was trying to achieve, and how breaking these children could possibly result in their growth. They were, after all, only 6th graders.

But then i understood that Teacher Ma loved the children more than any of the other teachers, and that her methods, although still debatable even after the show has ended, was what made me understand her motives just a smidgen more.

Overall, i thought that this show was solid from beginning to end. I'll probably remember alot of it as wise, educational advice that i'll take with me throughout my years even as a student. I cried, i laughed, i spat (at the unfairness). But in the end, i was content with the character growths and in teacher ma's mission.

Would like to end my thoughts of Queens Classroom (which undoubtedly delivered some of the BEST lines of the the year in dramaland) with totally quote-worthy ones. I did the honor of searching up a select few.

"Violence towards weaker ones start from cowardliness" -- Teacher Ma

"When we fight a strong opponent, if we fight with our lives on the line, there's a bigger chance of winning"
--Oh Dong Goo

"In this world, just like there is no one who only has good points, there's no one with just bad points"
--Shim Ha Na

"What is rational is not always efficient"
--Kim Seo Hyun

If you just follow the paths of others, you'll just end up in a common place. However, if you decide where you want to go and try hard to reach there, you can make your own path.
--Principal Yong

(When asked why teacher Ma chose teaching as her mission)
"It is because the kids make miracles. The teacher is only a guide. The kids who found out their own paths change their lives and the world, for the better."
--Teacher Ma

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I watched this drama and loved it. It had me in tears on numerous times. I just felt in love especially with the four kids who came together to show the others what true friendship is all about. Thank you for the review,as I hope it makes more people check this drama out.

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One of my fav dramas of this year. It just grabbed my heart and I loved all the kids.

I heard good things about the japanese drama, however when I tried to watch it, I gave up on the first episode.

The acting of the kids there is just... too stiff/not so good, compared to those little kactors here that impressed me.

So I might take some time before watching the Jdrama because I still love the kactors who played their character too well, to accept the others lol my bad but it is true.

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oe of my favorite drama of the year too! I love shim ha na even until now, her pic is still my id profile in soompi. This is maybe of of very little jdorama remake by korea which is good and satisfy.

I havent watch suspicious keeper but I hope it'll be good lika queen's classroom, if not better, at least satisfy, like watching kaseifu no mita last year...

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For me, so far on 2013, this is the only drama that I actually enjoyed. The last drama I truly enjoyed was Can't We Get Married. Usually, I like drama easily. But this year was a little bit difficult for me.

On that note, Queen's Classroom really really remind me why I have been watching Korean drama. I watched this too seriously (if anything). I really hated Teacher Ma for some time, even though I understand that maybe her intention was good. Overall, it was good acting, heartfelt scenes after scenes and I just want to put Oh Dong Gu in my pocket.

I am a fan of any of these kids actor, and whatever drama they star after this, I'll be watching.

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I never actually finished this drama - I could only take about four episodes before I got too frustrated with Teacher Ma to deal with the drama anymore. I loved, loved, LOVED the kids (well, three of them because I was left smarting from Bomi's betrayal, which made NO sense to me), and it was so painful for me to watch Hana get backstabbed time after time. The acting was superb and I frequently felt like I was the one who was suffering all those injustices (which may or may not explain why I unloaded buckets of tears every episode), but I think I need to stick with the light rom-coms from now on.

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Yeah. Bomi's betrayal. That was a biiiiig hurdle the writer was asking me to get over.
She betrayed the only person in the class who ever offered a helping hand. If her main desire was to be accepted and make friends, she would have chosen hana over teacher ma. She knows if she's on teacher ma's side she still doesn't have the favor of the other kids. Logic fail on bomi's part.
Yeah, i remember several times at the beginning of the show pulling my hair out because of the actions of these characters and asking myself WHY i was still watching.
I'm glad i stuck it out though.

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Totally not logic fail on Bomi's part. Kids do it all the time, and it does work. They turn on the one person who helped them and will do it on a dime if it's their ticket out of being the perpetual scapegoat.

Do I think that's ethically admirable? No. But it happens all the time. And it is effective.

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About Eun Bo Mi

Well, maybe not all of you will agree in my opinion.. In my opinion, in the end of the day Teacher Ma wants all of her students to stand up for herself/himself..

Eun Bomi is always a loner,,as a kid I'm pretty sure that when somebody takes notice you'll gladly follow her/him. That is the case for Shim Hana takes notice on Eun Bo Mi..

But,,what good coming from this?? It's true that Bomi will have friends right now,,,but she still doesn't have a sense to respect/trust/have proud of herself...she only depends on Hana,,she only follows Hana...

That's why I think Teacher Ma makes her spy,,to elevate her pride,,to act for herself,,to give her a sense to respect herself more,,As a pure kid she is, she'll realize by herself,,just like Teacher Ma wants,,that betrayal is a bad thing,,then she'll be Hana's friend,,in equal standing,,she'll be Hana's friend because she wants to make a friend, not because Hana wants her to be her friend...

There you can get a more-cheerful BoMi..Teacher Ma uses different method of torturing here,,because more pride-tampered won't do any good for BoMi

what a clever tactic

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ah,,forget one thing,,aside for making BoMi act for herself, respect herself by making her a spy,,eventually it'll make her classmates to take notice and respect her more,,,to make her out from maybe the next perpetual scapegoat,,

to make her feel strong,,and looks strong...

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Excellent read.

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I was not expecting to see Onew's face (of SHINee) in Javabeans... LOL. I know it's shallow but I certainly did not expect to see that - such a pleasant surprise.

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Ikr. I personally love the OST 'Green Rain' by SHINee. The lyrics are daebak! In fact, I have the vid on my phone and I play it when I'm kinda down. It encourages me. May be I'm just fangirling cos they are my favourite Korean band lol XD

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I've been wanting to watch this drama, in fact there's an empty folder for me to save it. Now with your review, I'll start to download it and watch it after my weekend Ojakgyo Brothers marathon!

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Awesomesauce! This drama definitely deserves more love than it got and I'm thrilled that QC passed Heads' QC with flying colors. It's not perfect, and I actually almost dropped it early on because Teacher Ma's methods were too problematic for me, however it's one of those dramas that will stay in my heart for a long time.

I loved the Underdog Group! Just thinking about Dong Gu with his Miss Rosa or Madame Oh floods my heart again with all the feels. Shim Hana is one of my favorite k-drama heroines and she even inspired me to stand up for someone when it was inconvenient. And of course, it was lovely to watch Kim Seo Hyun learn to let others in.

The child actors were indeed superb-- I couldn't help noticing that they were outacting many (if not most) of the adult actors that were appearing in the other dramas I was watching at the time. Although Bo Mi's character wasn't one of my favorites, I feel the actress that played her, Seo Shin Ae, deserves a special shout out-- I marveled at her range, especially how well she turned on a dime when she went from victim to bully. It happens to be her birthday today-- I've been a fan of hers since Thank You, and I'm wishing her all the best.

Thanks, Heads... hopefully this review will inspire others to give it a shot.

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I'm so glad for this review. I know this show will stand the test of time because it's so sincere and heartfelt. Wonderful acting from all the cast.

Thank you for giving a shout out over the awesomeness of this show.

This is my favourite show of the year!

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I'm not a crybaby either.

But just reading your review, brings back those good memories of watching this show.

And now I've got something in my eye. And my throat is a bit constricted.

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What a fantastic review! Thank you.

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I actually saw the Japanese version back when it first aired, and not having the best of luck with Korean adaptations had decided to skip this one, afraid that it wouldn't do it justice. Boy, am I glad to see I was wrong! I will definitely be checking this one out soon, so thanks for the terrific, inspiring review!! ^_^

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I tried the japanese version...
but the kids ating on kversion is way better and I couldn't finish the japanese because I wasn't that interested on the kids there :(

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Same here, I thought I'd love it since the K version was based on it but I dropped it early.

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I watched it so long ago, I honestly don't remember being bothered by the child-acting . . . I was too busy freaking out over the treatment of the crazy teacher. But who knows, maybe my opinion would be different today. I'm kind of tempted to rewatch it now to find out, lol.

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I did not really care for the Japanese version much, so did not actually start watching this one until around when ep5 came out and I saw some comments about it. Went back and picked it up from ep1, and was hooked for the duration.

The one thing for sure that I think the K version did better was the portrayal of the parents (and their failures). The J version just seemed a bit over the top and over acted.

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As I understand it the drama in korea was judged often against school 2013 and the Teacher Ma agaisnt Jung In Jae, rather unfairly I would think, but I guess when this started to air a school drama at once brought to mind School 2013 to the korean watchers mind, and lets face it how many times have we seen one drama with a theme and then before you can blink two more are being made with just the same theme! I think that hurt its rating early on but picked up over time as it started making it own identity and showed it was not a School 2013 clone.

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TBH, much better and moving than school 2013.

Who would know I would enjoy a drama without any romance and just with adorable kids!

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I guess it says something when I can recall nearly all of Queen's and almost nothing of School 2013, even though I watch both at around the same time.

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Jung In Jae was a s***ty teacher. I would have subjected my child to Teacher Ma over Jung In Jae any day. And I say this as a teacher.

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School 2013 was superficial and cheesy and over-hyped. This show is on a whole different level.

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wow busy taking the stakes out of my heart..lol
but really all I was sharing was the 'korean' veiwer perception and the whys as to this shows poor showing in the rating, specially early on in its run, it not my personal thoughts, as I have never seen this or School 2013.
I simply remembered the article because i thought it so unfair to compare highschool and middle school set storylines.
I will add that rating in korea almost never match as to what those viewers outside of korea like and one should never judge a drama on rating alone.

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I miss you Bong Gu-yaa~~
Definitely one of my fav drama in 2013.
Thank you for the review Head..

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I miss Bong Gu too!! How is it that Chun Bo Geun always gets to play my favorite child characters in dramas every single year?

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I have to agree this was one of my favorite dramas, I don't even recall why I initially watched it since it's not my usual rom-com taste but the writing was superb. Here was a drama that had it all, great pacing, well written with meaningful dialogue and above all superb acting. The story had direction and purpose and you never had one of those wtf moments when you wondered why you were even watching this. Hope it gets some kind of awards but probably not in Korea. I encourage everyone who likes a good story to watch this, although sometimes painful and heartbreaking to watch.,it's worth the 16 hours.

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You make a good point about the WTF moments. I cannot recall a single significant one in Queen's, unlike far too many other dramas. I think that speaks well of the director, who somehow managed to not fall into that all too common trap for the sake of drama-moments.

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I'm so glad you (sort of) reviewed the show!
It's been one my favorite shows of the year and was really disappointed it didn't really get enough buzz as other dramas just because it mainly uses a child cast??
Honestly they have some of the best acting I've ever seen!
And yes I think I cried 90% of this drama!
Thank you thank you!!

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KIM SEO-HYUN (Kim Sae-ron) was amazing. What a face she has.

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I love this drama.
But was her father a cheater or not ?

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I watched the show too. It was amazing. I must say, the students acted so well, the conflicts and triumphs, friendship and bullying.. They held nothing back. Despite the low ratings, I think this drama made it the most meaningful drama of the year.

In the middle of the series, when Shim HaNa got bullied real bad, and "The Witch" didn't make it any better by making BoMi betray her and Dong Gu left her (for the meantime, of course we know he can't. He's so adorable trying to confess his love to Shim HaNa at the end...)

Last episode was great, and I wish Teacher Yang all the best in becoming the next "witch teacher"... You know, they still never really show what happened in the past for Teacher Ma. Who's that little boy in the photo at the burial that she visited? Was that her son? Where does she live, why doesn't she like people to know where she lives?etc etc

Maybe a season 2? or an SP (as all jdramas would have)

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Oh and I was hoping that Seo Hyun's mom would end up adopting Dong Gu and Seo Hyun and Dong Gu will become brothers and sisters. Though, I'm pretty sure that Seo Hyun has a particular liking for Dong Gu....ermm....

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My favourite song from this OST: Ryeowook - Maybe Tomorrow

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One of the best dramas of the year. :') Awesome review, I hope more people will give this drama a try now.

I cried so much during this drama too. <3

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Agreed. A superb review. Not your normal 6th grade school year, but it is a drama. Easy to accept that...deserving to be on this year's Best List.

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So, I see this up previously and I think, oh maybe I'll read this later as I heard this was a good drama but not really my cup of tea, and I kept looking at the photo and looking and looking and it finally dawned on me the question in my head was "Why does that guy in the middle look like Jonghyun, wasn't this a classroom drama? And then I think and that guy over there looks like Onew...wait a minute. OHHHHH.

Yeah, that happened.

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That's exactly what happened to me. LOL I think we may not be the only ones.

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LOL. That didn't happen to me cos I read the recap somewhere else. But I wouldn't lie to you, it was the fact that SHINee sang the OST and featured in it that got me interested in the drama in the first place :D

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How does this compare to the Japanese version for those that have seen both? I loved the J-dorama so much, so was reluctant to watch the K-drama one, same goes for Kaseifu no Mita/suspicious House keeper.

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Hi Tweetiebird,

I watched both and thought no adaptation would top the Jdrama version. Especially Yuki Amami and the dark tones of the dorama.

But, I was floored with the beauty of this Korean adaptation. It was in a different league with the dorama. Some people don't like the Korean adaptation as it didn't follow the magnified craziness in the dorama. It was rather quiet and too subtle for some people's taste. But because of that quiet and assured tone, the Kdrama felt a lot darker than the dorama. I don't know if this makes sense.

I'm telling you, this one, sits just a rung below The White Tower in terms of a Korean adaptation of a dorama. Watch it. The acting, script is superb. Easily bypassing the dorama.

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For those that are into instant romance and OTP's this is not for you. Perhaps that is also what put it off the radar for some people.

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I also thought this adaptation was very good. If you liked the J version, you won't be disappointed with this one.

The J version had a SP which explained the teacher's background. You really need to see it to understand why she became that way (Yuki Amami is such a good actress).

With the K version being 16 eps, I was hoping to see more of the teacher's previous life. I think the audience would've been more sympathetic to her character.

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Is the Japanese version as good as the Korean version? I haven't watched the J-dorama, but I watched the K-drama and loved it. Are there any noticeable differences? For example, is there an equivalent of Kim Do-jin in the J-dorama? Is there an equivalent of bitchy, scheming Na-ri? Or are the 4 main students and the witch teacher the only thing that's the same? I'm planning to watch the J-dorama but I don't really want to be disappointed, especially since I quite liked the K-drama.

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I gave the show try but it just didn't grab me.

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This show is TOTALLY Underrated, even though they have nice story line and superb acting.

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I saw only a couple of episodes. I wanted to like the show but I couldn't get over the cruel teaching methods. I don't agree with such a teaching style at all and I had no desire to watch 16 hours of injustice and unfairness towards children, no matter what life lessons they may learn from them. Frankly I'm surprised that so many people liked this show (judging from the comments). Don't get me wrong, I know people can have different opinions, I'm just surprised.

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There is something to be said for both sides, but having seen some of my own younger relatives learn things the really hard way later in their lives, I am not so sure that teacher Ma was wrong.

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Aw, what a moving review. I teared up just reading it, for real. I was never interested in watching this drama, but perhaps I need to put it on my watch list. Thank you for such a well written and moving review!

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This was a one I first watched out of boredom, without any prior expectations, not knowing any of the cast and not even knowing the synopsis, and oh how glad I'm to have stumbled upon this gem of a drama.

I can't believe even reading this review brought tears to my eyes!!

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The J-drama version was emotionally traumatizing when I watched it (it is amazing and based on this tiny review, it is different enough that if you enjoyed this one you might enjoy the J-drama version without too much deja-vu) so I avoided this drama for fear of getting my heart broken again but this review makes me want to watch it anyway. I am a sucker for school stories and since I am currently teaching in Korea now, I think it will take on extra meaning for me.

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Does this K-version include the past history of the teacher like in the 2 special episodes of the J-version? Because that was crucial for understanding the actions of the teachers and as to why she chose such teaching method.
I tried to watch the K-version but just couldn't get in to it.The child actors mimicked the acting style of those from the original version to the point of looking ridiculous at times.I wish they didn't blindly followed the original one and tried a new approach though the story is the same.

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I'm so glad that there's finally some sort of review for this series. I agree wholeheartedly with everything in this review, which doesn't happen often. Especially the part where I've had problems recommending this drama because I wasn't sure if I was really being objective. I NEVER cry at dramas, and yet I was reduced to a sobbing mess more than once. It might be that the drama does an amazing job of showing how the problems these kids are facing only mirror what they will have to deal with for the rest of their lives or the simple fact that they are kids so it's much more heart wrenching, but something connected and I can honestly say this drama moved me. You'll go away cheering for this group of flawed, good-hearted, forgiving children and hoping that all the lessons Teacher Ma gave them will stay with them for a very long time.

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I haven't watched the show (yet.) And I thank you for the overview.

But I have to say, as a mom, if I ever went to "back to school night" and saw that my kid's teacher was Mi-Sil, I would yank them out of that class so fast without a second thought.

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LOL
Mishil !

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I loved each episode of this drama! Teacher Ma's lessons are really useful I think because she learns what the real life is to the students! I loved Dong-Gu and Ha-Na's characters!! They were so sweet :)

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Easily one of the most underrated and best shows of the year...and can I just call it? Hands down the Best acting ensemble of the year without a single wart (I don't care if its too early to say this..lol)...just thinking about these kids or seeing screencaps from this show makes me tear up, especially our underdog gang....there seems to be a lot of mixed opinions on Teacher Ma even among those who love this show but I loved her character, flaws and all...Go Hyun Jung's acting was just sublime....I mean you could blink and miss a flicker of an expression on her face which would tell it all...I actually thought she was even more outstanding here than in Queen Seonduk

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I only watched the first episode and I stand by saying that Teacher Ma is abusive. I don't really care about her intentions but she emotionally manipulated students and possibly scarred them for life. I take issue with the fact that such an abusive character and her abusive ways are scene as something positive. As someone who has been abused before, gone through bullying and had abusive teachers in the past, I really couldn't watch any of this drama without breaking down and feeling awful. :/

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I think that "scarred for life" is a bit over the top. While some of her methods do seem somewhat "abusive", I am not so sure that the general idea is all that bad.

I know a person that went to one of those schools where "do your own thing" and fake self-esteem was the norm - it even made the news once for giving out special "trophies" for any kid that actually managed to twitch a finger. Now at 40+, and her 3rd run into rehab, having a kid at 17, spending 2 years in jail for drug dealing, and many other problems I wonder if someone like teacher Ma could have made a difference.

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Ok and as someone who was abused/bullied and has depression who can't get out of bed and several other mental health problems I can definitely say that being abused is no walk in the park either.

And they're not "somewhat" abusive methods. They ARE abusive methods.

Annnnd no saying they'll be "scarred for life" isn't an understatement. Some of my most powerful memories have to do with being abused/getting bullied. You can't say for certain what will stick with these kids forever. Being discriminated against/abused does in fact stick with you.

Also, are you seriously trying to argue that having gone to a school that tries to boost self-esteem (Which you are trying to paint as a bad thing. God forbid, children have good self-esteem, it's the end of the world) is the one and only factor in their life that has messed them up?

Oh and here's an interesting fact the best education system in the world is in Finland. It's gets the result it does because it emphasises on children's individuality and tries to nurture their emotional and mental well being. Woops

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How much of that abuse came from your teachers?

I think you are over reacting a bit to what is basically a TV drama that some people liked and some did not.

As far as Finland being the best education system, I would agree that it is in the top 5. Yet Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan are also - yet they have vastly different systems. The one thing they do have n common is a very low percentage of minorities. You can make of that what you will.

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This was def a good drama with loads of overreaction. I didn't get a chance to finish over the summer. But when I first watched it, I remembered feeling soooo frustrated while watching the drama. But there were moments where you felt hope for the characters like when Seohyun stood up for Hana.

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I did happen to catch this when it aired. I very much agree with you HeadsNo2, this drama was so wonderfully paced and lovely to watch. Who knew those of us way past 11 years old could benefit from the lessons in this drama. I appreciate the way the drama made the story about the children. Teacher Ma was this vessel for them to grow and I feel for us as viewers to grow as well. I recommend this to everyone!

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I very much disagree with this review although it was beautifully written. Well, not all of it. The child actors and Go Hyun-jung were phenomenal. The music was wonderful and I loved how it was filmed. HOwever, I could not take her philosophy at all. Whether she was right or not, it was not right to torture the students. The fact she didn't change after psychologically damaging the kids does not jive with me at all. She was a steady character all right, one who'd watch a student get the shit beat out of him. Enough to let the kids torture each other. Yes, she was effective, but I dont' think she was worth it, and that's what bugged me about the show. What is good about it is that it makes YOU, the viewer, think about what she's doing and how the kids are reacting. It makes you take everything into consideration. It's a think-piece.

At the end of the day, it made my stomach churn.

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I see someone else has my name:'( this is Raine from Raine's Dichotomy!

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OH OH OH. HOw much do I love that SHINee is in your opening photo?! *SQUEE* Look at how adorable they are and that grin Onew is wearing. Yeah...I'm fangirling...

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I think you should watch the two special episodes of the Japanese version.It shows the past history of the teacher.It'll help you understand why she chose such extreme method.

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I watched the original Japanese version of this drama along time ago, and even then I cried . So it's not just you, the source material is just that good.

I also watched the korean version, and all I gotta say is that they did the japanese version justice and it didn't turn out bad like doctor Jin (korean version was horrible it became funny, while the Japanese version is a cinematic experience).
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