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Extracurricular: Series review, part 1

Dark, slick, and twisty, Extracurricular is right up my alley. From the previews, I expected something provocative possibly with an entertaining heist, but I largely underestimated the intensity of the show. Similar to Kingdom, this series explores uncharted territory with controversial content and graphic images that are not easy sells to Korean TV broadcasters. Extracurricular takes advantage of the freedoms of this platform, offering a fresh take on youth angst and crime. It’s a world in which the youth don’t trust the words or actions of adults and take matters into their own hands, for better or for worse. Mostly worse.

At every crossroad, these characters take the wrong turn, and with each wrong turn, the way back on track becomes increasingly unattainable. It’s a similar feeling while watching this show: Each episode draws you in more and with every episode, it becomes harder not to just binge the full show. Once you reach a certain point, there’s no turning back.

Considering the intensity and plot of the show, this review is split into two parts. Part 1 covers roughly episodes 1-6, and part 2 will cover episodes 7-10. Please don’t spoil the reading (and viewing) experience for anyone in this review and save any discussions on the ending for the next post. There are plenty of juicy details to discuss in the first part anyway, so let’s get right to it.

 
THE PLAYERS

Our main character, Oh Ji-soo (Kim Dong-hee), is a straight-A student with modest dreams of an ordinary life: graduating high school, attending college, and working a job that will pay the bills. But for Ji-soo, this dream has an expensive price tag, one that he can’t afford because he has no financial support. His parents abandoned him after Dad gambled away their family’s savings, so he’s left to his own devices to achieve this aspirational life of a typical high schooler. His own devices — intelligence and desperation — are reliable, and entrepreneurial Ji-soo manages to sustain himself with a profitable side business. The big catch: it’s an illicit sex trafficking business.

Classmate Bae Gyu-ri (Park Joo-hyun) sniffs out Ji-soo’s business and negotiates a cut of the profits after threatening to expose Ji-soo. Her motivations for involvement initially seem unclear because unlike Ji-soo, Gyu-ri comes from an affluent family. But we soon learn that her wealthy background comes with a different set of baggage. Gyu-ri despises her parents, who are more concerned with grooming her into the company heir and rarely treat her like an actual human. She appears disciplined in following the path that her parents so strictly laid out for her to inherit her mother’s talent agency, but she’s also highly disciplined in navigating her parents’ blind spots. Gyu-ri is sharp, unforgiving, and fearless. She’s the school’s “insider” and also Ji-soo’s crush.

Among the sex workers in Ji-soo’s business is Seo Min-hee (Jung Da-bin), another classmate and feisty bully of her class. Behind her cute and lovable appearance, Min-hee is a foul-mouthed vaping delinquent who harbors anxiety about her secret part-time job as a minor. She’s dating school bully Kwak Ki-tae (Nam Yoon-soo), and she pours her finances from her job to keep her boyfriend content in their relationship.

 
THE PREMISE

By day, Ji-soo is a meek high schooler, often an unsociable loner in his class, but by night, he juggles unimaginable after school extracurricular activities. With an app that he’s developed, Ji-soo manages requests for work and protection services from his network of sex workers. Over the year and half of work, Ji-soo has collected a list of customers, organized with labels (blacklist, frequency, etc.) mainly for the safety of the workers. When communicating with the workers, he goes by “Uncle” in the app and runs his protection services through Manager Lee Wang-chul (Choi Min-soo), who I’ll refer to as Mr. Lee.

All of the sex workers in Ji-soo’s network have customized “safety” bracelets that will send notifications for help. The sex workers tap the bracelet for help when faced with a nasty customer, Ji-soo notifies Mr. Lee of their client’s location, and the vile customer receives a severe beating (plus threats for money) from Mr. Lee.

Mr. Lee is the middleman and an obedient soldier to Ji-soo’s orders, and I doubt that he would be so loyal and obedient if he knew Ji-soo was a high schooler. That’s right — Mr. Lee has no idea who Ji-soo is. Through the app, Ji-soo masks his voice as the robotic “Uncle,” and though they never interact in person, they have a solid business partnership. An abrupt interruption forces a haitus from business, and Ji-soo is forced to consider new allies as he tries to continue on his path to financial freedom.

 
SERIES REVIEW, EPISODES 1-6

Each main character has a different relationship with money, but it’s all tied to a sense of freedom — freedom to dream, freedom from expectations, and freedom from self-doubt.

The first three episodes focus on Ji-soo’s plight, criminal activity, and the first major obstacle he faces in his business. As we get to know Ji-soo, we start to understand his drive for money. Ji-soo is desperate for money in a literal and practical sense. He needs the money to survive and fulfill his own ambitions and expectations in life. He’s even calculated the exact amount (90,000,000 won) he needs to achieve this dream. At first glance, his reaction to deprivation and hardship seem puzzling. What is so important about being a “typical student” that warrants this illegal business?

The show answers this question by intentionally exposing the high school environment and the extreme societal pressures to keep up with your peers. In this setting, the desperation is palpable and relatable. The constant fear of falling behind and the consequential indignance about the opportunity disparities seem to justify Ji-soo’s last resort. Ji-soo’s measures to reconcile those class and opportunity disparities are drastic for the sake of drama, but the motivation behind those measures is grounded in real social pressures.

Gyu-ri’s drive to achieve financial freedom originates from her deep contempt for her parents, whose expectations are the bane of Gyu-ri’s sanity. Her animosity toward her parents is expressed explicitly and graphically in the introduction to the second episode, in which Gyu-ri kills off her parents in her mind. With bloodshot eyes, Gyu-ri imagines shooting bullets from her mouth right at her parents’ foreheads and then consuming the delicious breakfast foods that she’s restricted from eating to maintain her figure.

When Gyu-ri breaks from her reverie, she continues her performance as a dutiful and intelligent daughter. The intelligence piece of her performance isn’t just a part of the “good daughter” role — she’s actually really smart. But “intelligence” isn’t the right word. It’s more like a shrewdness that she carries. She’s incredibly sharp and calculating, and these dangerous characteristics get her into trouble.

The impetus for all the action is always Gyu-ri, but as her role transforms throughout the show, the why and how of this instigation also changes.

At first, Gyu-ri is Ji-soo’s crush. Gyu-ri is the opposite of Ji-soo in many ways: cheerful, sociable, and an insider. When Ji-soo’s homeroom teacher tries to look out for Ji-soo and forces him to join his Social Issues Research Club, Ji-soo is endearingly awkward with the only other member of the club, Gyu-ri. Homeroom teacher Cho Jin-woo (Park Hyuk-kwon) solicits feedback from Gyu-ri and Ji-soo on a sexual behavior survey, and Ji-soo’s response to one question about minor sex workers reveals his compassion. Instead of debating the responsible parties to resolve the case (the school and/or the police), Ji-soo sympathizes with the exposed student, who would be ostracized by peers. It’s undeniable that Ji-soo is exploiting the sex workers for his business, but he still carries a sense of moral obligation to protect them.

When presented with the opportunity to work on a survey with Gyu-ri over the weekend, Ji-soo shuts down his business for the day to go on his first date. Study date, but to Ji-soo, it’s a Big Deal. He goes to a café for the first time, orders an espresso (which is so bitter for the café novice that he spits it right out), and cries after opening up to Gyu-ri about his parents. This is the beginning of Gyu-ri’s curiosity about Ji-soo.

While Ji-soo is distracted from his job, Min-hee riskily works without her insurance company standing by. Someone stole the very expensive phone case she had prepared as a 100 day anniversary gift for Ki-tae, so she’s working extra to earn enough to not disappoint her boyfriend. Disregarding the blacklist label on this customer, Min-hee engages in business and suffers the consequences. This blacklisted customer baited her to get revenge on Mr. Lee, who beat him to a pulp on a previous occasion for his vile hair-cutting fetish. With Mr. Lee out of commission and Min-hee in danger, Ji-soo ditches Gyu-ri and comes up with a creative solution that involves the police.

The police show up at the motel in response to Ji-soo’s report, and that’s enough for the vile customer to flee. Ji-soo misdirects the police to the wrong room, giving Min-hee enough time to escape. But now, the police have footage of Min-hee, and Officer Lee Hae-gyeong (Kim Yeo-jin), formerly under the violent crimes unit and now a school police offier, is determined to find her.

Gyu-ri’s first instigation of action as Ji-soo’s crush is the only time the instigation is unintentional, as she quickly picks up on the clues that Ji-soo’s part-time job is lucrative. Gyu-ri seems to have a keen radar for money. Remember Min-hee’s stolen expensive phone case? Gyu-ri stole that and sold it online, so it’s not above her to steal Ji-soo’s business phone to sniff out his illicit business. While Ji-soo tries to track down his phone, another help request comes through on the app from Min-hee, who experiences a panic attack on another job — likely a result of the traumatic encounter with the fetish bastard. Fortunately, Mr. Lee is nearby to respond.

Min-hee’s panic attack handicaps her from engaging in more work, but she’s not the only one who experiences intense anxiety. Both Ji-soo and Gyu-ri endure their own anxieties, and we see this manifest throughout the series. Ji-soo’s panic comes all at once like a huge crashing wave, and he cowardly retreats like his pet hermit crab, barely able to function because he’s consumed by his guilt. Gyu-ri’s anxiety is well-contained and simmers beneath her composure, and the only real indication of her brewing stress is her habit of picking at her nails. These expressions of stress emerge when our characters feel that their lives are out of their control, a common and relatable sentiment in adolescence.

Min-hee’s relationship with Mr. Lee (who she calls “old man”) is the most functional and genuine relationship in the whole series. Mr. Lee reminds me of Won Bin from The Man from Nowhere with a subtle fatherly touch, and with scene stealer Choi Min-soo in the role, I could see this relationship being featured in a full spin-off series. Mr. Lee cares for Min-hee beyond just for her safety in work, and he projects a fatherly protectiveness that is both warm and distant. He knows that she’s broaching dangerous territory by continuing to work through her anxiety, and he hesitates to let her continue to risk her mental health.

We learn more about Min-hee’s background through Mr. Lee, who did some research. After Min-hee’s parents divorced, she was left under the care of her aunt and uncle. They’re well-off and can provide for Min-hee, but she insists on making her own money. For Min-hee, money gives her control over her worth.

From the way she showers Ki-tae with gifts and money, she clearly equates love with money, and that false connection becomes a point of contention in their relationship. Ki-tae thinks it’s obvious and fair that he likes her for material contributions, but for Min-hee, that completely disregards everything she’s worked towards. Ki-tae fails to see the money as something beyond the material conveniences, essentially Min-hee’s sincere feelings for him.

Once Gyu-ri pieces together Ji-soo’s business, she finds delight in taunting him. Gyu-ri shows up at Ji-soo’s apartment to check in, and from his bathroom, she calls Ji-soo with the stolen Uncle phone. Both Ji-soo and Gyu-ri talk quietly on the phone, wary of getting caught by each other. Ji-soo is afraid that he’ll be exposed to his crush while Gyu-ri is careful not to spoil her fun. It’s a brilliant and comical scene of dramatic irony for Ji-soo.

Upon realizing the dire consequences for Ji-soo, Gyu-ri gives up on stealing the money, but Ji-soo’s dad steals it instead. Dad only seeks out Ji-soo when he runs out of money or needs something, and he swiftly bikes away with a plastic bag of rolled up cash and Gyu-ri on his tail. Witnessing the end of this chase, Ji-soo experiences two major betrayals. With Dad, it’s an expected loss and betrayal, and Dad shows no remorse when he makes eye contact with Ji-soo before disappearing. But with Gyu-ri, the betrayal hits differently.

Ji-soo tracks down his Uncle phone to Gyu-ri and realizes that she’s been scamming him. The betrayal hits hard, and Ji-soo tears up in mortification. The weight of the betrayal also hits Gyu-ri, and she’s determined to make up for the losses. While keeping the Uncle phone hostage, Gyu-ri tries to get involved in Ji-soo’s business by helping him track down Dad and proposing new clients. Tracking down Dad ends up being futile because he’s already squandered all of Ji-soo’s money on a cryptocurrency scam. The immense anger that engulfs Ji-soo drives him to consider killing his father, but he ultimately can’t bring himself to hurt his careless dad. He’s back to square one.

As new business, Gyu-ri suggests her judo team guy friends, who have experience entertaining rich noonas for money. Ji-soo points out the flaw in Gyu-ri’s new business plan: The judo guys don’t need protection from his business. As fit large males, they can more easily fend for themselves if confronted with a tough customer. This is an interesting point and indicative of how Ji-soo views his business. He frames it as a protection service — not a sex trafficking business — and gets upset when Gyu-ri calls him a pimp. Although he is a sex trafficker, he chooses to engage with more vulnerable clients, those who need protection. He’s trying to justify his business by distinguishing himself from the “real” bad guys, whom we meet later.

Gyu-ri’s interest in Ji-soo’s business isn’t just about the money. On multiple occasions, Gyu-ri’s sympathy for Ji-soo drives her decisions. It bars her from taking things too far out of Ji-soo’s comfort zone but also prompts her to go to great lengths to protect him. Case in point: She saves him from Ki-tae’s bullying by claiming that Ji-soo is her boyfriend. Even to the school bully, she’s untouchable because she’s got the right connections. Nobody wants to be an enemy of the judo team.

Gyu-ri learns through a veiled conversation with Min-hee that Ji-soo has halted his business, and that offers her another route to cajole Ji-soo: money. With a combination of cajoling and goading, Gyu-ri offers Ji-soo cash to pay Mr. Lee and continue business, with the catch that she joins as a business partner. Ji-soo rejects the money, humiliated and upset by Gyu-ri’s easy approach to life. He’s bothered by how different they are and how belittling her offer is.

Ji-soo comments on this difference in a conversation with homeroom teacher Cho Jin-woo, who disagrees and actually finds them quite similar in that they both bear their burdens and endure without asking for help. Teacher Cho is probably the only safe and trustworthy adult for our delinquents. He’s got their backs; he cares about their wellbeing and their safety; and he’s patiently observant. More importantly, he isn’t intimidated by the pressures of authority figures like the school dean or police officers.

Teacher Cho notes another key similarity between the two in his files — both highly intelligent but lacking emotion. This becomes apparent when they officially start their business partnership, which Ji-soo initiates after bombing his midterm. Between the manual labor jobs he worked to make enough money to pay Mr. Lee, this straight-A student barely had time to study. He explodes in an angry stream of curses in class after realizing his failing grade and immediately seals the deal with Gyu-ri. He can’t handle the derision and potential failure of achieving his dream.

In his angry outburst, Ji-soo punched a bully (part of Ki-tae’s posse) who teased him for his failing grade. As Gyu-ri’s “boyfriend,” Ji-soo is socially protected from an outright beating, so the bully resorts to petty ways to get back at Ji-soo, starting with glue on his chair and ramping up to a dildo in his backpack. With the violating sex toy planted, Ki-tae prompts a search of students’ belongings by presenting cigarette butts to the school dean as something he found in the bathroom. This kid just knows how to get his way.

Gyu-ri’s friends warn her about the impending search, and she immediately looks to Ji-soo. She knows that he’s been carrying around his business funds and bank books, paranoid about another theft. She tries to get his attention, but Ji-soo fails to take her frantic warnings seriously until the school dean arrives. Desperate to preserve his secret, Ji-soo stands up and objects to the search, citing individual civil rights. Teacher Cho supports Ji-soo’s objection, but the dean tries the force the search anyway. Ji-soo’s business pouch nearly falls out of his backpack, but he’s saved by the bell — the fire alarm bell that Gyu-ri pulls.

When confronted by the dean about her behavior, Gyu-ri puts on show about the pressures she faces to be perfect and sobs uncontrollably. But Teacher Cho knows better and once they’re alone, he tells her to cut out the method acting. He asks for the real reason, and Gyu-ri’s chilling response seems real. She admits that she can’t stand that she breathes without any effort. This is the first time we see Gyu-ri really vulnerable, and this lucid moment leads into the car conversation Gyu-ri has with her mother.

Mom invites Ji-soo into the car after seeing the two walking out of school together. Gyu-ri’s laughter in teasing Ji-soo about the sex toy they discovered in his backpack quickly vanishes at the sight of her mother’s car. Gyu-ri maintains a stoic expression as Mom asks Ji-soo’s if they’ve had sex. There’s no beating around the bush with Mom. Offended by the call from the school, Mom claims that she’s never pressured Gyu-ri and connects her behavior to a past rebellion. This “rebellion” is a euphemism for Gyu-ri’s suicide attempt, and Gyu-ri isn’t shy about sharing the details in front of Ji-soo. She claims that she wanted to die and cut herself twice because she didn’t know the exact location of the vein.

This new information softens Ji-soo’s view of Gyu-ri, but Gyu-ri isn’t visibly affected and continues with business as usual. Now an official business partner with a cut of the profits, Gyu-ri gets to work. She identifies a desperate idol trainee at Mom’s talent agency as a new worker and modernizes the business systems by providing an iPad and user guide to Mr. Lee. To make sure idol trainee Lee Tae-rim has a positive first experience with sex work, Ji-soo sets up a reliable customer for his first job and assures hesitant Tae-rim that they won’t force him to take the job. This is curiously thoughtful of Ji-soo, and Gyu-ri gets excited when Tae-rim accepts the job. Gyu-ri decides to stay over at Ji-soo’s place after the confrontation with her mother, and Ji-soo worries that Mom will misunderstand their relationship. He gets all flustered when Gyu-ri mentions sex, which is ironic because Ji-soo literally runs a business based on sex. The duality in Ji-soo is amusing.

Though it seems like business as usual, the two face a few hiccups. During the hiatus when Ji-soo was gathering enough funds to pay Mr. Lee, the ring leader of Ji-soo’s network finds another broker and leaves with the network. In the ring leader’s search, we’re introduced to the owner of Banana Karaoke and her partner, rumored gangster Ryu Dae-yeol. According to rumors, the karaoke business turns into a brothel by night.

The second hiccup: Min-hee. During a school visit, Officer Lee recognizes Min-hee’s backpack from the motel surveillance video footage and sets up a counseling session with her. Ji-soo and Gyu-ri serendipitously interrupt the session in the counseling room, which also happens to be the Social Issues Research Club room. They each attempt to extinguish this fire differently. Gyu-ri is savvier in her approach and makes an official complaint about Officer Lee while Ji-soo clumsily interrupts the counselling session a second time to defend Min-hee. Intimidated by the presented evidence and the police officer, Min-hee was shaking and nearly at the breaking point when Ji-soo barged into the room, citing individual rights and privacy, this time to fend off the police.

Gyu-ri insists that they need to cut Min-hee from the business because she’s too risky as a minor. As she takes over the termination conversation, Gyu-ri is direct almost to the point of insensitivity. She invalidates all of Min-hee’s arguments and ultimately puts the blame on Min-hee for their severed business relationship. Mr. Lee follows orders to wipe Min-hee’s phone and take away the safety bracelet, and though he looks pained by Min-hee’s resistance to this harsh severance, Mr. Lee knows this is for the best.

Word gets out about Ji-soo defending Min-hee, so of course, Ki-tae hunts Ji-soo down for a beating. Ji-soo refuses to spill the truth about Min-hee, and he’s keeping his mouth shut out of self-interest, though it appears that he’s being protective of Min-hee. This scene portrays Gyu-ri’s observations of Ji-soo — that he thinks he’s a pup when he’s actually a wolf, and behind the bold façade, he’s actually a coward. Both Min-hee and Gyu-ri come to Ji-soo’s rescue, but Gyu-ri’s quick instincts and brains are what save Ji-soo and Min-hee. She lies to Ki-tae that the police sought out Min-hee for stealing Swarovski jewelry, and Min-hee goes along with that lie.

Min-hee takes advantage of Ji-soo’s fluency in rights and drags him along to confront Mr. Lee. Ji-soo freezes up at the sight of Mr. Lee (who doesn’t know Ji-soo… or does he?) and can’t squeak out a word because he’s distracted by Mr. Lee calling him. Idol trainee Lee Tae-rim also shows up at the surveillance spot looking shaken, but Mr. Lee subtly dismisses him.

Traumatized may be a better word to describe the look on Tae-rim’s face after his experience with Banana Karaoke gangster Ryu Dae-yeol, who discovered his girlfriend’s infidelity by snooping on her phone. Dae-yeol tied up Tae-rim in the motel room covered in plastic and was ready to kill him until he realized that Tae-rim wasn’t directly messaging his girlfriend. This is a huge jump from Tae-rim’s first experience with transactional sex work, which was largely positive thanks to Ji-soo’s thoughtful consideration. Dae-yeol tracks down Mr. Lee, who immediately picks up that he’s being followed and warns Min-hee and Ji-soo to leave. Min-hee insists on following anyway but quickly retreats with Ji-soo when she realizes the gang surrounding Mr. Lee.

Though outnumbered, Mr. Lee expertly fights the gang. His tough and ruthless skills hint at his past, which the show gives a stingy glance at when Mr. Lee set up his bank books on top of photos of his army buds. As the fight continues, Mr. Lee loses steam and suffers a few tough blows from Dae-yeol’s right hand guy. He’s further handicapped by an injection, and he barely walks away in his drugged state when Dae-yeol attacks him from behind with an axe. A freaking axe!! This gangster is insane.

Mr. Lee is basically in zombie form as he limps away in his bloody state. He manages to escape with Min-hee thanks to Ji-soo blocking the gate, but that leaves Ji-soo behind as the sacrifice to the gangsters. Dae-yeol recognizes the dog sticker on Ji-soo’s Uncle phone and send a message through his girlfriend’s phone to verify Ji-soo as the culprit. The Uncle phone lights up at the message notification, and Dae-yeol sneers at his successful hunt.

 
COMMENTS

This series is tightly orchestrated with a looming element of suspense, and the ending of episode 6 truly left me agape. I needed a moment to absorb what actually happened and to reset my expectations about this story about juvenile criminals. These relatively innocent youngsters are about to enter the real adult world of crime, and this was our first taste of what lies ahead.

Though I just characterized these two as “relatively innocent,” they are by no means naïve. They share a cynicism about life that feels isolating yet complementary. The early partnership between Ji-soo and Gyu-ri is a treat because we get to see them develop a bond that pulls them out of their loneliness. They still veil their real emotions behind sharp criticisms and arguments, but they’re the most honest with each other. Although their relationship is full of bickering and contention, they have great chemistry as polar opposites and also as two kindred souls. Both Gyu-ri and Ji-soo exhibit sociopathic tendencies, just performed differently. While Gyu-ri is an outgoing and sociable sociopath, Ji-soo is more aloof. When these two isolated sociopaths meet, their chemistry is crackling as they feed off of each other’s sinister nature. Between the angel and devil on their shoulders, they’re both the devil to each other, and I can’t wait to see more of this dangerous chemistry.

While these two emerge out of their lonely worlds, Mr. Lee actively stays mysterious and distant. Mr. Lee is a curious character — highly dependent on Ji-soo as his business partner and very loyal to Ji-soo, even when presented the opportunity to conduct business on his own. He acutely aware of what he’s capable of, and he seems unwilling to break old habits and live a new life. He almost lives with blinders on, though he seems to make an exception for Min-hee. Given the research he did on Min-hee, I would imagine he could also track down Ji-soo. Does he already know who Ji-soo is? Or does it really matter?

In addition to a gripping plot and swift directing, the cast sells this story. These up and coming actors all scored their roles through auditions, and they nailed their roles. The acting is superb, and I think this series is a big moment of growth for them as actors. In interviews, Kim Dong-hee has mentioned how he was fascinated by his own acting because he didn’t recognize himself. That’s the kind of growth I love. Park Joo-hyun was highlighted as a newbie to look out for this year, and I think she’s delivering on those expectations. Although A Piece of Your Mind was unfortunately cut short, her appearance was significant enough for me to compare the two characters, and let me tell you, they are completely different. But even without that point of reference, I know that this girl got range. Gyu-ri is the most dynamic of the characters in this series, and Park Joo-hyun clearly knows how to flex all the muscles in her acting range. If you can believe it, the story and acting only gets more dynamic from here. Get ready.

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What really struck me about this show was its themes of social impotence and the need for control. Setting it in highschool makes it a challenging watch but that's the point in our lives when our need for autonomy and control is most at war with societal control. Hence why adolescence is so tumultuous. Ji-soo, Gyu-ri, all the prostitutes, they're all struggling to exert control and all socially impotent. It's interesting that all these characters feel the path to control is financial independence - even Gyu-ri who is ostensibly wealthy. And that's where this show goes in hard on capitalism and the commodification of people. Min-hee, for example, doesn't want for the basics of life like Ji-soo does, yet she also feels driven to acquire money to be accepted in her peer group. Even to the point of deliberately taking on a blacklist client in the hope she can wrangle more cash out of him by way of compensation when he inevitably attacks her.

I've compared it to Breaking Bad and I do feel the parallels here, especially around Ji-soo's overwhelming sense of impotence. Yes he needs money but what he's really after is a sense of power over his life. And that is the case for almost every other character, except the few responsible adults scattered throughout.

Anyway, this show was like crack - I couldn't stop watching. I binged the whole thing in one day and I look forward to your thoughts on the second half.

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wondering what your thoughts on how they handled the sex work? considering that...is something huge lol. i didn't know that would be a subplot so i'm kind of glad i didnt go into it blind cos wow

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They didn't deal with the sex work at all IMHO. I've read some people have a problem with this and I understand their issue with it. It was kind of handwaved, "some people who want money sell themselves".

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ah that is what i feared. seriously ty for the heads up

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I’m not sure if the issue of prostitution has been handwaved. I agree that the show does seem awfully matter-of-fact about sex work, but in its depiction of Min-hee, Sung-mi, the judo boys, Tae-rim, etc it’s also very upfront about the dangers, the utter lack of any form of job security and the way people are dehumanised. With regard to its dehumanising effects, the choice of the sex industry for this story seems particularly apt. Not only is it inevitable in a society that sees everything and everyone in commercial terms, it also reflects how deeply Ji-soo and Gyu-ri have been steeped in that notion. JS and GR have their moments of compassion or empathy, but bearing in mind what they’ve gone through, it’s hardly surprising that they are mainly interested in what they can get out of other people. For example, Gyu-ri’s “friends” seem less about true friendship than about the exchange of valuable commodities like information, protection and prestige. It's only a small step from that attitude to a horribly literal view of Min-hee as damaged goods, and Tae-rim, as fresh meat.

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What amara is referring to is the structural disadvantage embedded in hyper-capitalist societies whereby the lack of any social safety net forces young girls into prostitution to survive. Yes, it's just a job and the show is matter of fact about it. But I know that amara is going to want to see some discussion on these children feeling like they have little choice but to take this work. I personally see Min-hee's character as a victim of hyper capitalism and the commodification of people. But some people could argue she's just choosing sex work due to greed. It portrays it as a choice that ignores the structural disadvantages that forces women to make this rational choice.

Having said that, I think the show does a great job of showing that almost everyone is doing something on the side to get more money and that implies the structural issues she's looking for in a text.

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omg @leetennant idk why but ur clarification is so cute to me. U GET MEEE.

it is not a moral thing at all but the idea of commodity and disadvantage 100 percent. also when it comes down to it sex work is labor however it is not just another job. there's no way for teenagers to completely assert themselves when the existence of the work in the first place will never help us attain that. this is hard work, you are using your body as product and that's so layered and complicated. so it is unfathomable to me how it could be so lax about a teenager doing it.

additionally, many sex workers are against sex work because of our society. there's a good book on black sex workers on how it both empowers and exploits them and we have to come to terms with that. we have to be okay with some things becoming obsolete and patriarchy and capitalism are what give these things weight.

i was going to say the physical toll as well but i want to clarify that if you are a construction worker or custodian those are issues to face to. there's way less social ramifications though. like it or not, sex has meaning just not in the way we have been taught (shame, obsession)

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omg one more thing sorry yall...

imo choice needs to be understood better. i dont think there is a single decision we make in a vacuum. especially not as women (i am a cis woman, dont want to assume for others.) we shape our whole lives to our environment so the broader question of choice isn't particularly relevant as i believe we should focus more on personal evolution (IE if a woman gets a breast augmentation it is her choice but why does that exist in the first place? why does she feel the need for it? why is this something she would want? in what ways are we gatekeeping womanhood through presentation and capital?)

regardless, the conclusion or act they came to is there. so what do we do to fix it? help people? not outcast them from society? do we ask what their needs are? how will we work with them. i am no arbiter of choice nor owner of another body but the way we understand and relate to one another, live our lives, is not purely about choice.

i keep thinking of this because of the exertion of power others have over a young girl and EXPLOITATION which disgusts me more than most things. teenagers should be exploring and learning with other teenagers but adult influence is everywhere—why? and maybe the problem is the approach to sex work as a choice one can make and the different reasons put that on a sliding scale or how likeable you are. (and some people just suck lmao )

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I agree that the show doesn't dwell on people for whom sex work is a last resort in an obvious way. That's what makes it unusual in my eyes: it focuses on, and is sympathetic towards, people with supposedly less "good" reasons for taking up the work, and shows those reasons to be rooted in the confusion of true value with monetary value.

But I also agree that not everyone will find Min-hee or Tae-rim so sympathetic. Tbh I've been restraining myself from arguing with people who compare her unfavourably with Ji-soo, who "really needs the money", mainly because I'm not sure I can get my point across. I don't know. In trying to convey the complexity of the various pressures driving people into sex work, has the show kind of shot itself in the foot by being too subtle about it?

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I think the problem here is that it's hard to immediately see Min-hee as being exploited, especially when we go into the show from Jisoo POV. He's a teen, she's a teen. Also she's a dumbass (taking a blacklist client without backup?) and that doesn't help.

The show put us in an interesting position with the police because we were desperately hoping that Min-hee didn't talk and yet that would have been the best thing for Min-hee.

I see her character as being less about structural disadvantage and more about consumerism - the need to have disposable income to gain and maintain social status. Unfortunately the other prostitutes don't have much time spent on them other than their desire to gain some control over their employment and not be so reliant on Samchan's somewhat erratic behaviour.

Ultimately, Min-hee was ripe for exploitation for social and cultural reasons that had little to do with literally needing to eat. And I think you're right, it's possible the show didn't do that well enough.

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Also re Ji-soo - it bears pointing out. His desire for a 'normal life' is a perfectly normal desire and he has every right to go to school and University and get a joke like everyone else. And that's why welfare systems do and should exist. But he isn't doing this to feed himself either. He could drop out of school and get a legitimate job. He's also doing this because he aspires to have things society has made sure he can't afford.

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i want to point out that if she was not a teenager (i would say "of age" but it doesn't matter they're in HS) then it wouldnt be as big of a problem. the problem isn't the "work" itself it is that sex work is an emotioal, physical, psychological thing. just like any other labor—and is the work with dignity?

i think part of it may be this idea that she has a choice, but choice is ripped away when you are a commodity. very interesting as well @leetennant when you bring up wanting material things and goods and richness as opposed to elevation as a way out of poverty.

i, personally, do not even believe in work (in the way we see it in capitalism) so none of this would EVER exist in my future. the only good work would be martyrdom and that's ridiculous.

i guess for me it's just that if you are going to bring this up in the show then absolutely the reasons should be addressed. not only that, it is a way more sexually conservative society. at the best of times i do not believe in our autonomy as workers but that becomes stronger as a young person. i probably won't watch the show but an analysis is IMPERATIVE for a story with this subject matter.

my impression of part of the show is also that they are not being taken care of properly. i don't care about the crimes per se, since i don't think being a CEO is ethical, but about how it leads to a destructive path.

there is no reason or justification to have a young person in sex work ever. if they do there is always an issue with that—always that means something is wrong.

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anyway both your readings/interpretations and your questions are good. it's definitely not about good/bad for me. i also am against the work itself (not decriminalization or safety or unions all workers should have these things on our way to a destruction of the system)

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I didn't think of Breaking Bad, and now that you said it, I can't stop finding similarities in both stories!
What you said about characters' motivations, and also the way the story accelerates. Like in season 1 of BB, characters become increasingly unhinged and things become surrealistic really fast. Also comes to mind the contrast between their "school life" and the "business" - up to a point, they keep up appearances, go to school, Gyuri keeps on studying.

Thanks! Now I can recommend this drama to my non-drama viewing friends as the "teenage Korean Breaking Bad". That's a brilliant pitch!

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Funny how you referred to Breaking Bad. The whole time I watch this drama, I keep getting the Breaking Bad vibe.

I enjoyed it a lot too and watched it in 3 days. Only because I got too disturb watching it and needed some breathing space in between. Otherwise I would've gulped it on one seating like you do.

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my friend is talking to me about the show and this reply of yours makes it so enticing ("goes in hard on capitalism and commodification") i just know that presently it would trigger a poor response in me.

all in all this show sounds extremely up my alley and nothing is perfect ever and i dont expect it to be!

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Regardless of anything else, the show is really well written. I do recommend it when you feel you're in the mood.

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i meant emotionally it would hurt me but i think i can watch it soon-ish. when i do pls look forward to me bothering u i know ill be like "WOW THIS IS AMAZING WHY ISNT ANYONE TALKING ABOUT IT" bc i love being late

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I have to finally ask because I'm curious, but what system do you want to see? Which one doesn't have work?
Also, I'm too lazy to tag. And I'm not trolling, just curious. My over tired brain is trying to think of what system that is.

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it's ok! i think this quote sums it up:

"If you want to know what the undercommons wants, what Moten and Harney want, what black people, indigenous peoples, queers and poor people want, what we (the “we” who cohabit in the space of the undercommons) want, it is this – we cannot be satisfied with the recognition and acknowledgement generated by the very system that denies a) that anything was ever broken and b) that we deserved to be the broken part; so we refuse to ask for recognition and instead we
want to take apart, dismantle, tear down the structure that, right now, limits our ability to find each other, to see beyond it and to access the
places that we know lie outside its walls. We cannot say what new structures will replace the ones we live with yet, because once we have
torn shit down, we will inevitably see more and see differently and feel a new sense of wanting and being and becoming. What we want after “the break” will be different from what we think we want before the break and both are necessarily different from the desire that issues
from being in the break."

emphasis mine

(this is from The Wild Beyond: With and For the Undercommons in an essay by Jack Halberstan which is in the book the Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, 2013.)

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Having bluetooth keyboard trouble, which means using my normal laptop keyboard which means Wrist Trouble Again, so I can't say much here, but I really like this show: It's good but not nice. There are so many layers and possible things to unpack and discuss. Will come back hopefully with more thoughts in pt 2 and with LT at some point with a blog discussion post thing.

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I've only binged the first six episodes, but this is definitely one of the most addicting shows I've watched this year. Even though the premise/setting are foreign to me and there's next to no similarity between the high school life depicted in the show and my own, this is probably one of the first kdramas I've watched where high school actually *feels* like high school. The diversity of the students, the way they interact, the pettiness, bullies, the eccentric-but-well-meaning guidance counselor - it feels somewhat true to life.

The lead actors/actresses are also killing their roles (it hadn't occurred to me before now that auditioning for roles wasn't the norm in kdrama-land). Ji-soo, Gyu-ri, and Min-hee are all morally compromised in some way or other, and none are particularly likable, but they do so well at conveying the anxiety, depression and general sense of unhappiness that seems to hang over them that more often that not, I find myself feeling sorry for them. Ji-soo in particular is the easiest to empathize with, and I get the feeling that if the world had been just a little bit kinder to him, he'd be on a completely different path.

I'm excited for the remainder of the show, and can't wait for part 2 of the review!

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This drama is pretty hard to understand. But maybe that's cause I'm stupid lol.

Like when I watched ep 1, I didn't know the vile customer who was pulling Min-hee’s hair was a customer, I thought he was a rapist. And then when Choi Min Soo came to beat him up I got confused cause I thought he would rape her lol.

I never thought either Ji-soo or Gyuri were attracted to each other but after reading this I can understand the thinking. I thought Gyuri just seemed curious about who Ji-soo is and Ji-soo never showed signs of liking her and was only interested in hiding his dirty little secret.

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I was amazed by the acting in this series. The acting of Male Lead and both female leads was truly exceptional. Also, I watched this series after watching "A piece of your mind" and was amazed how different the role of Park Joo-hyun was in this compared to one in "A piece of your mind". She was impressive in her role. However, I thing I don't like about this series is that it tries to be like an American series. I feel like Korean Series have their own charm and uniqueness and they should rather show their uniqueness than try to be like an American show

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Thanks for the recap, @dramallama! "When these two isolated sociopaths meet, their chemistry is crackling as they feed off of each other’s sinister nature." is such a brilliant insight! I don't think that they are sociopaths, but I see what you mean.
Although I find the support characters a bit broad, I loved Jisoo and Gyuri, even if they are infuriating in all their bad decisions. I find them beautifully drawn: they are vulnerable and smart, and reckless like a lot of teenagers... And their dynamic makes them become increasingly unhinged. Unlike some people who comment that the characters' actions don't make sense, to me they make perfect sense. Desperate teenagers without support can do loads of stupid stuff. They are intelligent balls of emotions without the checks and balances that come with age. Drama is always an heightened version of reality, of course normal teenagers don't go around leading pimping businesses, but I understand the core of the characters and their actions.

Jung Dabin and Kim Donghee are really impressive, and they are so young! Their chemistry is compelling and they make these extreme characters believable, brilliant work!

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Yay, we are having a recap! Yay, thanks. I will wait for part two, because I dont want to spoil and I also want to talk about every episode at once. But this show... It is not your average kdrama.

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Thank you for writing this review! I've been waiting for someone (or some people) to discuss with, but there's seem not much people around me that watch Extracurricular. So I'm really happy to read your review!

What attracted me to watch this drama was when I watched their promotional videos. All the casts are so good looking and young. Their vibes were giving me good first impressions, so I decided to watch the show without any expectation and *boom*... It exceeds my expectation and I'm totally hooked. They're totally in sync with their characters that I don't remember how bright they looked in the promotional videos.

I think Jisoo and Gyuri are most favorite drama characters for me so far. Not that I approve of whatever crimes they're doing, but I love them for their complexity. Jisoo's character is described as someone who is two-faced-- he looks like a good and innocent kid, but when he's trying to survive, he will do anything. However, he's coward when facing risk that his crimes could be revealed. His state of mental breakdown is conveyed well on some scenes, even you can notice that Jisoo breaks on sweat and even have runny nose whenever he's in panic. That's a really good and detailed acting right there by Kim Donghee.

Gyuri, on the other hand, not as extremely two-faced as Jisoo (who seem to have really different personalities at times), but she's cunning and has quick thinking, even when being pressured or cornered. She's bold and mentally strong, sometimes even stronger than Jisoo. Jisoo looks like having more empathy (like when he couldn't bring himself to hurt his father), but who knows that it's all part of his other personality. But I'm just dying to know.

Jisoo and Gyuri seems different, yet similar. Their combination is dangerous, but I love that they're being themselves in front of each other. Even though they fought a lot, but still they never really leave each other. I ship them together, but inserting too much romance at this point would be too out of context.

Nevertheless, some cute moments wouldn't hurt, and honestly I found myself squealing over it lol. Can't wait for next part of review!

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Thanks for the recap! If I were a better writer, I could write a dissertation on this show. I loved it. I'll try to leave some thoughts in Part 2.

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doesit mean this is good?

can watch it?

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This drama landed on my 130-something long watchlist, but I quickly decided to watch it on the recommendation of my friend who dabbles in dramas. I knew if it gripped her enough to tell me about it, it had to be good.

The first episode left me floored. Based on the Netflix description of young adults being involved in crime, I thought maybe it would be stealing or some kind of con set-up. I was not expecting a Korean drama (even one on Netflix) to grapple with sex work.

I've watched the first 6 episodes so far and consider it to be one of the most thought-provoking watches of the year. I am impressed that this drama goes where other dramas do not dare to go.

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I want to hug Oji, and tell him everything is going to be okay. Let me pay his school bill and school away!

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Bored little rich girl, the female lead is so frigging annoying.. Eww, I just want to slap her.. Sorry but she caused all these horrible events and isn't sorry about it. She is trying to get in so she can have some meaning to her existence or erase whatever boredom she is feeling. I cant stand rich people like that.. this is a game to her but this is his whole life.. I hope he sees her for what she is..

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From watching the first half of drama, I was torn whether to cheer for jisoo or to wish that he gets caught. And the writer takes advantage of this morally gray characters and our emotional attachments to them. On the one hand, jisoo is a poor guy who just wants to graduate and live a normal life when he become an adult, but the means for him to achieve this dream is to exploit the need for money of other people like him (via prostition). Sex work has always been a sensitive topic and to this day I can't pinpoint where to put my opinion about it. Sex trafficking is illegal, it is immoral if people are being forced to sell themselves. But if it is something the person freely chooses (by exercising autonomy) and is not hurting anybody by practicing it, is it still considered immoral, and by extention does that make his pimping immoral (if we exclude seo minhee who is a minor)? It would be two consenting adults having paid sex, like casual sex with some money involved. So my answer is Idk. To this day, even as an adult, I still don't know the answer to this..

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I feel the same way. I almost hate the police because I'm attached to these kids I don't want them to get caught, but I also want them to just give up. I think this is probably why the writer chose to write about prostitution (in Minhee's case, child prostitution) and present us with these morally gray characters who are nowhere near innocent but still need to be protected anyways. All of the elements in this show are set to challenge our values, just like Jisoo refuses to call himself a pimp and tries his best to justify his business as a protection business instead of straight up prostitution.

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This is the problem with show like this trying to make us in a way care for character like this when in reality it is problematic. To me the moment you put money on the table in exchange for another person body, to me you take away that person self. Often the buyer think he can do anything with the girl because he have paid for her. To me it is like you buy a phone. To you at that moment you own it and can do what you want with it. It is a reason in my country we have shelter for girls like this. Many comes from another country. They are being forced to do this by another person that even take the girls money so they have to continue to do this... What messe up to me is that they even have a note board where they have written down buyer that are violent. think about it. you never know what kind of man the buyer is. One of the girl even got burned to death in her car by a buyer.... In my country the law says it is illegal to pay for sex...

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I'm looking forward to part 2.

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I was initially worried that this wouldn't be as intense or dark as the trailer, but it turned out to be even more intense and 10 times darker than I expected. Every single character in this show just wants money since they believe that money will buy them freedom. Unfortunately, freedom and chaos are only separated by a very thin line and none of these kids realizes that. Money enables them to buy freedom (from poverty, from your parents/family). Minhee probably wants power (over Kwakki/their relationship) in the first place, but her money also 'frees' her from her aunt's family and she seems to be reluctant to depend on them (financially and emotionally).

This takes us to another possible twist: they mistake power for freedom. And then it's the classic "more power more responsibilities" line all over again, since once you're after power there's no end to it. I'd like to talk about freedom and power more because these 2 things are often intertwined, but I think it's more appropriate to dive into a deeper discussion on the next review.

All of our mains are such meaty, intriguing characters and I can't be more thankful for this. I love me some gray characters! I love how the show kind of revolves around Gyuri's "Ohji thinks he's a pup but he's actually a wolf" opinion. We've seen Jisoo explodes numerous times (he always does whenever something doesn't go his way).
A lot of people probably hate Gyuri but when I find her to be frustrating sometimes, I like her. She's unpredictable, a total contrast to our diligent, organized Ohji. And God I hate the fact that I ship them together because as @dramallama pointed out, they're kind of toxic together and bring out the bad in each other.

I have quite a lot of things to say about Kitae and Mr. Lee, but I think that will have to wait! I've been waiting for DB to review Extracurricular, so thank you.

P.S. I watched this and A Piece of Your Mind at the same time so I really experienced "the many faces of Park Joohyun" and now I'm officially a fan!

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Also can someone tell poor Minhee that when your significant other likes you for your money and "cute breasts," it's RED LIGHT. Drop him, sis. He's not worth your love, time, energy and.... money! I know it needs time, especially since Minhee really needs to heal from everything she's been through, but she needs to slowly learn that she's precious and no one can EVER treat her like that, not even a so-called boyfriend who "loves" her. I hope the female Officer and Mr. Lee will help her to realize that. She doesn't need Kitae to be "whole."

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