Class of Lies: Episodes 1-2 (Review)
We’re swimming in dramas! OCN’s Wednesday-Thursday crime thriller Class of Lies also made its premiere last week, and its first episodes were dark, conspiracy-laden, and full of intrigue.
With so many dramas about lawyers and doctors and conspiracies going on in dramaland right now, it’s a small miracle that each drama we’ve looked at so far is able to stand on its own so well. The premiere week of Class of Lies is not for the faint of heart, but it’s sure made of the stuff that glues you to the screen. I was on pins and needles after just the first episode!
EPISODES 1-2 REVIEW
The drama opens with a murder scene, and boy it’s a rough one. For me, highly stylized violence is the hardest to handle, so I found this scene really difficult. It starts right in the middle of the murder of the popular high school girl JUNG SOO-AH (Jung Da-eun) with high school boy KIM HAN-SOO (Jang Dong-joo) hanging over her with a bloody knife.
The sound is muted, gorgeous music plays in the background, and the colors are blue and moody to contrast the seeping blood everywhere… *shudder* But the drama also edits the scene carefully, asking us to think about what we’re actually seeing. Is this really a murder? Or a high school boy that’s just come across one, and is trying to save the girl he loves? It’s this question that will drive the drama.
I was grateful for the mood shift that follows this opening sequence. We are treated to an amusing introduction to our hero GI MOO-HYUK (Yoon Kyun-sang). He’s clearly living the high life in his expensive car and flashy suit as he sashays into his office. He works for the law firm Songha, and they’re known as one of the best in the country with top-notch attorneys for the wealthy and powerful.
Our intro to Moo-hyuk is comedic, but also tells us about his reputation and ethics as an attorney, and his skill using words (and some questionable tricks) to resolve his cases to his best advantage. At Songha, the motto is that client’s truth is the “real” truth, and we see how far this has brought Moo-hyuk. He’s clearly the cream of the crop, and knows it.
It would be easy for the character of Moo-hyuk to come off as a jerk, but Yoon Kyun-sang brings a dimension to the role that makes it impossible not to like him. For some reason even though we know he’s done some jerky things, we can see he’s got a good heart in there.
Right after this little exposé of his lawyering talents, Moo-hyuk is given a new task by the head of his law firm: to defend a high school boy that’s charged with attempted murder for a girl in his class. Yep, the same murder scene we witnessed at the beginning on the drama. They both attend the prestigious (and creepy as heck) Cheonmyeong High School — and the high school is actually the client, so to speak. They want the case dealt with quietly, and the emphasis is on the importance of public sentiment.
There’s actually a good deal of this as a theme running through the drama already: not only the raw power of public sentiment, but how it can be taken advantage of and used for one’s benefit. Moo-hyuk illustrates this in an early case, and we’ll see it later on as well, when it’s turned against him. I like the heavy emphasis on this point, and I think (and hope) the drama is setting it up on purpose to use later on — because Moo-hyuk is going to need all the ammunition he can get when he goes up against the ugly goings-on at the high school.
Moo-hyuk meets with the student Kim Han-soo, and tells him their strategy is too minimize his sentence. Han-soo, though, doesn’t care about much besides whether Soo-ah is okay or not. He tells Moo-hyuk that they were secretly dating, and claims his innocence, but won’t tell Moo-hyuk much else.
This turns out to be a major mistake, because by the time they reach the courtroom and Moo-hyuk creates reasonable doubt around the assumed murder, it blows up big time. We’re talking conspiracy, cover-ups, and underage prostitution (it’s a fantastically done scene).
During the case we meet another important character, CHA HYUN-JUNG (Choi Yoo-hwa). She’s the prosecutor in charge, and although it’s a super typical set-up (she’s pressured from above to wrap it up quickly, she has a messy history with Moo-hyuk, etc.), I really liked her character.
When she’s told Moo-hyuk is the attorney on the case, she is none too pleased. “He’s not an attorney, he’s a swindler,” she growls, and just then the office door swings open and Moo-hyuk bangs into the room with a grin and a loud formal greeting.
I love the comedic moments like this one that are sprinkled throughout the drama. The milliseconds of silly are needed in the bucketfuls of dark that the drama delivers (and promises to deliver more of). Tonal balance, score!
With the murder case spiralling out of control, Moo-hyuk’s world is quickly turned upside-down. His head is served on a platter to appeal “public sentiment” around the case. But Moo-hyuk can read right between the lines. His boss disavows all knowledge of giving him special tasks and cases, such as the one in question, and Moo-hyuk is suspended, investigated, and forced to surrender his car, apartment — basically everything.
But something smells fishy to Moo-hyuk — he’s been dumped way too quickly, and he suspects there’s more to the case than he was originally led to believe. Then the final scene of Episode 1 confirm it all. Some students from Cheonmyeong High School pass him at the funeral home entrance, and he hears them teasing each other that they can rest easy now that Jung Soo-ah is dead.
It’s hands down the best scene in the episode (and quite possibly the drama). I got major goosebumps as Moo-hyuk turns around, takes it in, and realizes he’s onto something. Something serious.
I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on Episode 1 not only because it was so darn good, but because it sets up the tone and conflict of the drama so well. We already knew from the drama’s premise that Moo-hyuk would be going undercover at a high school, but this introduction was so bone-chilling that it didn’t feel like mere set-up at all.
After a “two months later” break, we meet Moo-hyuk again. Thank you Class of Lies for not giving us endless scenes of self-pity and sorrow over the state of Moo-hyuk’s affairs, or for actually telling us what Moo-hyuk is up to. Instead, we get the quickest montage to let us know he’s still investigating, and then we learn he’s entering the school as a substitute/temporary teacher. Quick and to the point.
It’s when Moo-hyuk enters the school that things start to feel a little bit heavy on the character introductions. I might have lost track of all the kids and teachers, but there are a few that stand out and will become important. Our heroine at the school is shaping up to be HA SO-HYUN (Geum Sae-rok), the teacher who believes all students are her “children.” She’s earnest and awesome, but also a bit naive. It feels like she might have some serious shocks in store.
We’ve also got a handful of high schoolers who I won’t intro individually here, but let it be known they are none too nice. We are not looking at a Sassy Go Go-esque scenario here. Instead we’ve got serious bullying (physical and digital), secret student-only apps, a student photographer that is paparazzi-level, and scheduled rooftop “fights” where underdog students are forced to fight it out quite brutally while the others cheer and bet. It’s a dark look at the youth in this drama, and it makes me feel a bit sick inside. But I suppose that’s the point.
The contrast to this debauchery and darkness, if you will, are Moo-hyuk and So-hyun, and I can’t say how much I am loving Yoon Kyun-sang in this role. There’s something warm and solid about his screen presence that is the perfect counterbalance to the seamy underbelly of Cheonmyeong High School.
It’s a bit too soon to comment on the female leads — they left a good impression, but need to be unpacked more. The high school students had much more of an impactful appearance in the drama so far. Jang Dong-joo as the assumed murderer Kim Han-soo was particularly electric, and our brief introduction to the super-smart student YOO BEOM-JIN (UKISS’s Jun) was also pretty compelling.
The strength of Class of Lies, to me, is in its storytelling, and that we get to go uncover with Moo-hyuk. Dramas often clue us in to all the subterfuge early on and then make us wait for the characters to catch up (Justice is a current example). In contrast to that set-up, I really like the fact that we don’t know much more than Moo-hyuk does, and we are digging up the truth together.
Many recent dramas have been edgy and dark — in fact, it almost feels like this kind of drama is becoming a new dramaland standard. While I miss my quintessential K-drama cheesiness, warmth, and happy endings (please don’t go anywhere!), it’s nice to have a thrilling and sharply told drama like Class of Lies around too.
- Premiere Watch: Justice, Rookie Historian Gu Hae-ryung, Doctor Detective, Class of Lies, Doctor John, Golden Garden
- Yoon Kyun-sang goes undercover among the children of Korea’s elite in Class of Lies
- Class of Lies begins with a student’s funeral
- Yoon Kyun-sang, Geum Sae-rok in teacher mode for OCN’s Class of Lies
- Disguised Yoon Kyun-sang to discover truth in school murder for Class of Lies
- Yoon Kyun-sang confirmed for new OCN mystery thriller