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[Revisiting Dramas] Different year, same old School

These days I’m obsessed with fresh-faced high school drama School 2017, so I considered rewatching its big brother School 2013 for this month’s challenge, except I remember that show and its bromantic angst like it happened yesterday, so I decided to go alllll the way back to where School first began, back in 1999.

I don’t remember watching the first season of School very closely back when it aired, because the series has always been very episodic and loosely plotted, so it was one of those shows you could catch a few episodes of here and there and not miss a lot of plot. I figured I’d give it a watch with fresh eyes to see how much has changed in the School franchise, which is—aptly—turning eighteen years old this year.

School is a veteran KBS drama series about high school students that initially ran for four seasons from 1999 to 2002, and then got a reboot in 2013. It’s famous for launching careers of up-and-comers (like Kim Rae-won, Jo In-sung, Ha Ji-won, Im Soo-jung, just to name a few).

Of the recent seasons, I hardly count Who Are You–School 2015 as part of the franchise, because that show was really the odd man out—it was much more of a slick, conventional drama, whereas the rest of School is very episodic and slice-of-life, weaving in and out of various students’ and teachers’ stories with the loose common thread of problems they face at school.

So what’s changed in School between 1999 and 2017? Not much, actually. The video quality might not hold up, but the teen angst does, and I was kind of surprised at how familiar the characters were from season to season. School starred young starlet Choi Kang-hee as the central character, an earnest, sunny tomboy with a strong sense of justice and a knack for always getting into other people’s business. Kim Se-jung’s Ra Eun-ho in School 2017 is cut from her mold, and the two seasons are pretty similar because of this central character, who can’t help but care about the things happening to her classmates and will always go to bat for her friends.

The runaway star of the first season was bad boy Jang Hyuk, because it’s just the unwritten rule of School that the bad boy always ends up being the breakout. He’s cool and aloof and quietly trying to live the straight and narrow after a violent past. Sound familiar? That’s because it is—I realized that Lee Jong-seok’s Go Nam-soon of School 2013 is Jang Hyuk’s character copy-pasted almost to the letter.

They have the same quiet aura, the gang members trying to lure them back over to the dark side, and a reputation they’re trying unsuccessfully to shake. Overall I’d say that the character development has improved a great deal from the original series, which painted its characters in broad strokes—the skeleton is the same, but Jang Hyuk definitely felt like the prototype, whereas Lee Jong-seok got the fleshed out character complete with agonizing backstory.

Among their classmates are bad girl Bae Doo-na and class clown Yang Dong-geun. Choi Kang-hee also has a best friend in the nice, popular Ahn Jae-mo (Jung Do-jeon), who harbors a longtime crush on her and becomes increasingly dismayed as she falls for rebel Jang Hyuk. Meanwhile, Jang Hyuk has a crush on teacher Yeom Jung-ah (Mirror of the Witch), who has a bickering loveline with new teacher Lee Chang-hoon (I’m Sorry Kang Nam-gu)…

Basically, it’s a merry-go-round of one-sided loves, and I won’t tell you how it ends, but what I like about it is that friendship is at the core of all these relationships, rather than romance. For instance, it’s not about the rivalry so much as the growing pains of confessing your feelings and getting shot down, or not knowing your true feelings until it’s too late. The boys experience jealousy, but they also become friends eventually, which is far more rewarding than a simple love triangle.

The promise of romance did keep me watching though, because in high school dramas, you only need the tiniest hint of a loveline to keep that hope alive. It was really cute because Jang Hyuk is badass, but he’s no smooth operator (unlike School 2017’s Kim Jung-hyun, who gives rom-com heroes a run for their money), and the fun is in watching Choi Kang-hee melt his icy, unapproachable exterior and get him to say more than two words at a time. He slowly goes from quiet loner to somebody who steps up in defense of bullied classmates, and he even starts smiling and joins a school club (begrudgingly) because of her.

Rewatching the original School highlighted how much the storytelling has tightened up in recent installments, if you can believe that. The first season has all of the same elements—overworked and overstressed overachievers, a flawed school system, bullies everywhere you turn, too much parenting, not enough parenting—but the plot is so loose that some storylines feel entirely incidental, and they get dropped and picked up again like an afterthought.

The prevailing sentiment, though, was familiarity and comfort. It was a different year and the hairstyles were dated, but the problems of eighteen-year-olds were by and large the same—searching for their place in the world and struggling through relationships of all kinds—and the series had that familiar low-key vibe and earnest tone that I’ve always loved.

It’s interesting that School launched as a drama series that always aimed to be specific to its particular generation of youths, but the more of them that I watch, the more I realize that the core conflicts aren’t that different after all. In 2017, rumors spread faster and there’s a more pronounced difference between the haves and have nots, but at the end of the day, some things remain unchanged: All you really need to make life bearable at eighteen is a true friend, the influence of a good teacher goes a long way, and trying not to fall for the bad boy is an exercise in futility.

 
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Thanks @girlfriday! Wow, couldn't recognise Choi Kang-hee at all till you said it was her. She looks so different. And very cool ??. Everything about this post makes me wanna go watch!

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My thoughts exactly! This the Kanghee who's friends with Yoo Jaesuk right? ?

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Young Jang Hyuk and Bae Doo-na! School 2013 was terrific so I would definitely like to watch some of the earlier seasons, see which themes stayed the same and what changed over time. I've still to start on School 2017 but from Beanies posts it is definitely worth watching. Thanks Girlfriday.

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Thanks for the post! I've always wondered how is School series before its reboot. It's been on my wish list to marathon all school series, but I can't find the show online with English subtitles.

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Yes, where can I watch I wonder. Or I can prolly start with 2017.. Beanies seems crazy about it lol

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@kayedrama yess, start with School 2017! It's really good. Come and join the party of endless squeeing and awww-ing! Haha

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I've seen 2013 and 2015. Just not in the mood for HS stuff. But you guys seem to enjoy it so I'll give it a shot. Thanks! ♥

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I had no idea Yang Donggeun was in School!! And the actress next to Bae Doona in their pic - I'm sure her character had a crush on Won Bin in Tough Guy's Love but I don't get her name or whether she's still acting now.

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i just realized it now too ?

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Haha, I love how you summed it up at the end. I have still yet to try a School. Where is a good place to start?! I remember asking the same question about the Reply series last year.

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School 2013

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+10000 Start with School 2013. Gah, the bromance ♥

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Thanks!

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Pity School 1999 has no subs. So many stars in their budding stage...

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yes,,it was in my wishlist but cn't find the subbed episodes

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I can't find subs for older School dramas. I've only watched Ha Ji Won's cuts in School 2 on youtube.

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I have such a lingering girl crush on Bae Doo-na watching her for the first time in Forest of Secrets. It is such a kick (and not surprising) to see that in 1999 she already carried such on-screen charisma amplified by a similar and awesome bob!

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and then check her out in Linda Linda Linda, from 2005.

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I loved her in How to Meet the Perfect Neighbor (2007).

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Ahn Jae-mo <3. He still look the same after all these years.

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are they too cute or what???? i haven't seen this one, must find!

now i want to go back and rewatch Volcano High again, too...
; )

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Thanks for this story on the School Series.

The recent School Series, with subs, saved my life.

One of the best written characters of all time was Go Nam Soon.

One of the best acted characters of all time was Park Heung Soo.

And if I spelt those names wrong it's because I am writing it by memory! And you sorta overlook name badges if you have re-watched your favourite characters scenes several times!!! Lol!!!

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No you spelled them right :D

I was so in love with Nam Soon, I remember, and Jong Suk's acting was so subtle, amazing!! And the bromance to end all bromances

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That was the first time I figured out why a character acted the way they did, by being completely blindsided. Kudos to Lee Jong Suk!!! I can't wait for 'While You Were Sleeping'!!!!

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Whoa...This takes me back! I remember loving Choi Kang hee in this because her character was a tomboy.

"some things remain unchanged: All you really need to make life bearable at eighteen is a true friend, the influence of a good teacher goes a long way, and trying not to fall for the bad boy is an exercise in futility." STILL true even today.

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Sorry first time commenting, so i want to watch all the school series where can i watch them in English subs?

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I have only ever watched School 2017. And I am loving the show right now. And I wholeheartedly agree that "trying not to fall for the bad boy is an exercise in futility". ?
Seeing young Jang Hyuk and young Bae Doo Na is such a hoot! I love both actors and they both aged well. ?

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Jang Hyuk and Bae Doo Na are sooo cute in that picts.
I'd like to watch it but seems like there is no english sub there.

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Need to go search for this with subs.
My first School was 2013 - loved it to bits ❤️. Still do - hence the many times rewatching. The bromance was riveting.
Which made me look forward to School 2015 - admittedly Sungjae had lots and lots to do with it - adored TaeKwang ? - still do - but hated Show!
The bitterness is real! ?

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Wow such a young Jang Hyuk! He didn't age much though.

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Bae Doo-Na looks as good or better now.

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Fast forward to 18 years later and we've progressed so much in terms everything except education. And by we I'm referring to the Asian education system in general. I really pity school kids these days. Thought I had it bad back then but it's much worse now.

I have a special place for School 2013 in my heart and School 2017 has just nestled itself pretty much comfortably. The show just keep getting better and better

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Omo Bae Doo-Na!

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I am not too much into high school dramas but this one I am only craving to watch for bad boy Jung hyuk and mean Bar Doo Na.

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Okay, this is definitely the way to convince me to watch the older School series. You had me at "Lee Jong-seok’s Go Nam-soon of School 2013 is Jang Hyuk’s character copy-pasted almost to the letter."

And then I saw Bae Doo-na is in it too. Done deal. Now where to find it... that is the challenge!

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awww, baby Jang Hyuk! Such a candy.

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Wow! Thanks for bringing me back to those 90s drama days, hope you do more of these revisiting drama posts with the old classics

Where did you manage to watch this show though? Without english subs is also okay. I cant find them anywhere and youku/tudou have some episodes but chinese dubbed unfortunately :( I really want to revisit these shows too

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I watched the entire series on youtube, it's not subtitled though.

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i too would love to watch the original School series with eng subs.

Agreed, School 2015 is an animal unto it self. Loved it. Loved the triangle of characters. (or square?)

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Daaaamn Jang Hyuk! I had no idea he used to look like that!

Bae Doo Na looks exactly the same down to her bob. It's so rare to see a K-Drama actress who hasn't chopped and sliced of bits of her face between their new and old projects

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love this post!!

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The one thing that these dramas have help me realize is that I'm grateful to be a teacher where I live. I enjoy teaching here, where kids can actually dream to be anything they want to be without overbearing pressure.

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Wow! Thank you @girlfriday ! I have'nt got a chance to watch School 1999, but will definitely take a look on it. And Bae Doo-na tough, has she even aged?

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Just finished watching this one, never thought to go back to the beginning of the School series. So many familiar faces! Choi Kang Hee was as good as always, I'm feeling totally inspired by that haircut too, been in need of a trim. I think I'll also have to watch the following School seasons too now haha!

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It would be a great article if you made an overview of all the dramas in the series.

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Yeah, and where we can find subs or subbing teams (for different languages) or subbed DVDs.

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