Itaewon Class: Episode 1
Spunky and heartwarming, the highly anticipated webtoon-turned-drama, Itaewon Class, delivers a strong premiere with a story that begins during our hero’s formative years — a time of awkward feelings, firm convictions, and unexpected tragedy. Father and son are the central characters in this first episode, and we’re blessed with two great actors to portray this relationship (Park Seo-joon! Sohn Hyun-joo! Eeeee!).
In addition to the father-son duo, the show boasts a stellar cast to carry this hyped underdog story. I’m looking forward to solid performances from both our good guys and bad guys, and I can’t wait to meet the full ensemble of characters as this story unfolds.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A therapist asks a young woman what she thinks about before she falls asleep, and the woman responds that she wishes for world destruction. She shares that she’s just tired of life and laughs at herself, acknowledging that this must sound amusing coming from a young person like herself.
The therapist affirms that everyone has moments when they’re tired of life, but the young woman, who we’ll later know as JO YI-SEO (Kim Da-mi), says that she’s always feeling this way. She finds life to be repetitive and obvious — a constant effort toward some goal. Yi-seo says that everyone knows that success is achieved by madly fighting for it, but everyone is too bothered to try.
Yi-seo shares that she told her boss (who she’s mentioned at therapy before) the same thing, and he responded that she should just die if she’s so tired of life. She laughs at how her boss monitored her “teen angst, ” and she asserts that counselling should be done candidly over drinks. Then, Yi-seo gets up to head to work and invites her therapist with a few coupons.
Yi-seo narrates an introduction to Itaewon, a hot spot within Yongsan in the city of Seoul, a place where you can see the world. “This is our story of living these streets with our own values.”
15 years ago, we see three high school boys kneel in the back of the classroom holding buckets of water above their head for playing hooky from their free study period. The teacher berates the delinquent students, saying that these future low-lifers will leech off of their parents when they grow up. In response, one student, PARK SAE-RO-YI (Park Seo-joon), dumps the bucket on himself.
The students snicker, and Sae-ro-yi calmly asks the annoyed teacher if he should refill his bucket. He returns to his punishment position, and a classmate smiles in amusement. The classmate (cameo by Solbin) observed that he seemed like a nutjob, but he also lived righteously. He didn’t have friends, but he never seemed lonely. She soon realized that she had a crush on Sae-ro-yi, but he was moving schools next week.
She musters up the courage to approach Sae-ro-yi and offers chocolate with a letter to wish him luck on the police college qualification exam. But Sae-ro-yi doesn’t accept the gift, saying that he doesn’t like sweet things. Despite the rejection and her friends’ annoyance with this nutjob, she still liked how he always did whatever he wanted.
Sae-ro-yi gets off the bus at Pajin City and runs to catch his train. A beggar grabs a student, OH SOO-AH (Kwon Nara), but she roughly shakes him off. As Sae-ro-yi catches the falling man, he hits his knee on the ground. He limps as he follows Soo-ah and tells her to apologize to the man, but she refuses. She asks he thinks he’s a good person and seems annoyed by his righteousness.
At the police college qualification exam, Sae-ro-yi limps as he runs around the track. The judges notice his limp and note that he’s the one who aced all of his physical tests. A slow runner catches up to Sae-ro-yi and tries to convince him to quit, but Sae-ro-yi refuses to come in last. He runs ahead, and the judges seem impressed.
At the Jang Ga Family headquarters, Manager PARK SUNG-YEOL (Sohn Hyun-joo) greets KANG MIN-JUNG (Kim Hye-eun) formally, and she insists that he drop the formalities. They talk like close friends about Manager Park’s move to Pajin and his son, Sae-ro-yi, who will be transferring to the same high school as the President’s son.
Min-jung updates Manager Park about the plans to terminate sponsorship to the orphanage because senior homes are a trendier issue. Manager Park says that the orphanage won’t be able feed the children without their sponsorship and argues that business is all about the people. But this was the President’s decision, so Manager Park chooses to acquiesce.
Sae-ro-yi aces his physical exam and assures Dad (Manager Park) that his knee is fine. Dad tells Sae-ro-yi that he must feel disappointed to leave his friends behind, but Sae-ro-yi says that he has no friends. Dad shares that the President’s son attends Sae-ro-yi’s new school but isn’t pushy about them being close. He just wishes that Sae-ro-yi would be more sociable. Sae-ro-yi comments that his dad’s wishes conflict with their family motto of living with conviction.
Dad drives them to the Pajin Orphanage to distribute food to the children, and Sae-ro-yi seems puzzled by the random visit. Dad greets a familiar face, Soo-ah, and introduces her to Sae-ro-yi. They recognize each other, but Sae-ro-yi doesn’t acknowledge her.
Dad apologizes to Soo-ah for the terminated sponsorship, but Soo-ah doesn’t blame him. She understands that it’s a company decision that he needs to follow. He assures Soo-ah that he’ll visit often to cook for them, now that he lives in Pajin. Soo-ah says that his son seems different than him, and Dad acknowledges that Sae-ro-yi is a bit aloof. She jokes that he’s handsome, and Dad claims those genes.
Soo-ah joins Sae-ro-yi to hang laundry and says that they’ll be attending the same school. She tries to be cordial and explains that she wants to be friendly because he’s Manager Park’s son. She’s known him for about five years while he served as the representative from Jang Ga.
Sae-ro-yi shakes out wet clothes at Soo-ah, and she asks if he’s still hung up on the train station incident. She calls him a snob for acting so righteous, and he likens his actions to Dad helping the orphanage. Soo-ah takes offense to that comment and decides to give up on being friendly, leaving him to hang all the laundry.
The next morning, Sae-ro-yi makes breakfast, and Dad compliments his cooking skills. Dad feels bad that he didn’t buy the new school uniform in time for Sae-ro-yi’s first day, but Sae-ro-yi doesn’t mind. He tells Dad to focus on his first official day at Jang Ga headquarters. Then, Dad takes a sip of the soup and says that it tastes bland. Ha.
Sae-ro-yi walks to the bus stop and keeps his distance when he notices Soo-ah waiting at the stop. A car stops in front of her, and JANG GEUN-WON (Ahn Bo-hyun), son of Jang Ga’s President, offers her a ride. She rejects his offer because she’s uncomfortable with him and takes the bus instead. Sae-ro-yi waits for the bus to leave and waits for the next bus to school.
When Sae-ro-yi enters his new homeroom, he meets eyes with Soo-ah, and they seem mutually annoyed. He awkwardly introduces himself and at the teacher’s prompt, he shares that he wants to become a police officer. The teacher points to the empty desk next to Soo-ah as his assigned seat.
They sit in awkward silence until they’re interrupted by a ruckus in the back of the classroom. Jang Ga heir Geun-won beats a classmate to the ground and spills milk on him. Before Sae-ro-yi does anything, Soo-ah suggests that he stay silent and pick his battles. She advises him to ignore the commotion, especially since Manager Park works for Jang Ga.
Sae-ro-yi isn’t convinced by this reasoning and steps in to stop the bullying. He grabs Geun-won’s hand and asks if his title as a chaebol heir gives him permission to be a bully. Geun-won seems bothered by Sae-ro-yi’s accusation but continues to bully the classmate. The rest of the class watches in silence.
When Sae-ro-yi demands that Geun-won cut out the abuse, Geun-won offers to share a school rule. The homeroom teacher returns to the classroom and instructs everyone to return to their seats. Sae-ro-yi brings attention to the bullying, but the teacher ignores the incriminating scene. Geun-won leans in and says, “This school’s rule: Jang Geun-won is the law.”
Geun-won smirks, and Sae-ro-yi punches him in exasperation. The teacher runs to injured Geun-won on the ground, and stunned Soo-ah looks away in frustration. Uh-oh, this can’t be good.
Manager Park proudly presents the Jang Ga sauces during his first day at headquarters, but he’s asked to step out. At school, Sae-ro-yi receives a beating from his teacher for punching Geun-won, who makes a fuss about his bloodied face. Then, the doors open, and the powerful Jang Ga CEO, President JANG DAE-HEE (Yoo Jae-myung), enters the room, followed by Manager Park.
Everyone in the room assumes a position of submission to President Jang, and Manager Park can barely look up as he apologizes for Sae-ro-yi’s actions. Geun-won can’t believe that Manager Park’s son would dare to strike him, and President Jang scolds his son for his rude language. Even haughty Geun-won submits to his father’s authority.
President Jang asks the principal about Sae-ro-yi’s punishment, and it sounds unfairly severe: expulsion and legal charges. As a show of mercy and consideration for the long-term relationship with Manager Park, President Jang dismisses any police involvement. He also offers to save Sae-ro-yi from expulsion, and Manager Park thanks him and promises that this won’t happen again.
But President Jang tells Sae-ro-yi that he must also acknowledge his wrongdoing by getting on his knees to apologize to Geun-won. He offers this as the best deal to save face for his beaten son. Sae-ro-yi says that his father taught him that one must accept punishment for any wrongdoing but that one must also live with conviction.
Sae-ro-yi tells the truth about his bullied classmate and his teacher’s tolerance of the bullying. He admits that he hit Geun-won because he wouldn’t stop when asked. Sae-ro-yi can accept punishment for his disruption in the classroom, but he won’t apologize to Geun-won. “This is my conviction, my father’s teaching, and how I wish to live my life.”
President Jang approaches Manager Park and asks for his opinion. Manager Park describes his son as a childish boy with no understanding of how the world works. Then, he adds that he’s proud of his son and affirms his son’s convictions and acceptance of punishment. President Jang’s smile drops, and Sae-ro-yi looks shocked.
Unsettled by the response, President Jang warns Manager Park about his future at the company. Sae-ro-yi tries to intervene and separate his father from his wrongdoings but to no avail. Manager Park says that he’ll quit, and he bows respectfully in gratitude for all his years serving the company.
Over dinner, Dad tells Sae-ro-yi that violence can never be justified and deserves punishment. Sae-ro-yi asks by Dad quit when he hadn’t done anything wrong, and Dad explains that he was acting on his convictions as a father.
Now that Sae-ro-yi isn’t a student anymore, Dad pours him a glass of soju and teaches him how to drink with elders. After Sae-ro-yi takes his first drink, Dad asks him how the soju tastes, and Sae-ro-yi responds that it tastes sweet. Dad laughs and says that the sweet taste means that the day left an impression.
Sae-ro-yi questions if Dad should give him alcohol even though he’s underage, and Dad justifies that alcohol should be taught by the father. Dad drinks his soju and says that his drink also tastes sweet. As Dad pours them another class, Sae-ro-yi apologizes, his voice trembling as he’s on the verge of tears.
Dad assures Sae-ro-yi that they’ll cherish this memory later. Sae-ro-yi can take the GED, and Dad has enough money to set up his own restaurant. Dad admits that he wasn’t able to live by their family motto, and he had hoped that Sae-ro-yi could live more freely. Seeing his hopes manifest today made him proud of Sae-ro-yi. Dad and Sae-ro-yi both tearfully drink another glass of soju.
Geun-won drives his new car onto school grounds, and his classmates predict that the teachers will just let him do what he wants, as always. Soo-ah checks the announcement for the Gwangjin University early admission, and she sees the bullied classmate staring at the notice of Sae-ro-yi’s expulsion.
Soo-ah notices Geun-won’s new car as she leaves school, and Geun-won brags about his limited edition car with a special “7777” license plate. He offers her a ride, but she passes. Geun-won asks if she’s extra cranky because the orphanage lost Jang Ga’s sponsorship and says that he’ll put in a good word with his dad. Soo-ah rejects his patronizing offer, saying that they won’t starve without Jang Ga.
Manager Park visits Soo-ah while she works at the convenience store, and she worries about his termination. She also asks why he paid her school admission fees, and he tells her not to worry about it. Soo-ah says that Manager Park’s son is just as nosy and vows not to live like the duo.
Soo-ah worries that she won’t qualify for early admission, but Manager Park believes that she’ll make it to college, if not this year, then the next. He says that he’s proud of the feisty child that grew up to be a smart student and encourages her to pursue college. Soo-ah looks touched and promises to repay three times the amount he paid.
At Jang Ga headquarters, Min-jung, Manager Park’s close colleague, tries to convince President Jang to reinstate Manager Park. She reminds him how long her father and President Jang have known and relied on Manager Park, and she credits him with Jang Ga’s success.
Demanding silence, President Jang slams his tea cup on the table and gives Min-jung a stern look. He says that Manager Park defied his orders, and an old dog who doesn’t recognize his owner is useless. President Jang justifies his authoritative nature by claiming that all of Jang Ga’s decisions — ever since his days of running the overpass pojangmacha with Min-jung’s father — have been the answer. He warns Min-jung, who he values like a daughter, not to provoke him further.
Soo-ah boards the bus and realizes that she forgot her wallet at home. Then, she realizes that she’s also missing her college interview admission ticket and races back home. Running back toward the bus stop, she passes Sae-ro-yi, who follows her and asks about her college interview today. She explains that she forgot her wallet and missed her bus, and the next bus will arrive too late.
Sae-ro-yi looks at the time and says that she’ll be late at this pace. He grabs her backpack and tells her to keep up with him, but Soo-ah refuses his help. She puts on her backpack and continues to run. Sae-ro-yi runs alongside her, being her pacemaker to the interview.
Dripping in sweat, Soo-ah stops to catch her breath, and Sae-ro-yi reaches his hand out to help her up. She asks why he’s helping her, and he tells her to focus on taking deep breaths. After a few breaths, Soo-ah gets back to running, pushing away Sae-ro-yi’s extended hand. Sae-ro-yi pushes her forward from behind, despite Soo-ah weak attempt to shake him off.
Once they reach the building entrance, Sae-ro-yi stops and wishes Soo-ah good luck on her interview. She confidently responds that she’ll interview well. Soo-ah gets called in for the interview, and she smiles as she remembers Sae-ro-yi’s encouragement.
When Soo-ah finishes the interview, she finds Sae-ro-yi waiting in front of the building. He asks how the interview went, and she respond that it went well, thanks to him. She asks why he’s waiting, and he hesitates to answer. Just as Soo-ah walks past him, Sae-ro-yi sheepishly asks if he can still use his dad as a reason to be friends with Soo-ah. She smiles and says that the offer still stands.
Soo-ah asks why Sae-ro-yi suddenly wanted to be friends, and he responds that he thinks he may understand why she acted so rudely. He teases her that she’s just hot-tempered, and Soo-ah glares at him. More sincerely, Sae-ro-yi notes that Soo-ah doesn’t like to receive or give help. Soo-ah explains her understanding of sympathy — a sentiment to comfort people who look down on others.
Sae-ro-yi asks if his dad’s actions fit Soo-ah’s definition of sympathy, and Soo-ah says that Dad is different. He asks how, but Soo-ah doesn’t share her reasons. Then, Soo-ah asks if Sae-ro-yi regrets punching Geun-won. She explains that Geun-won was untouchable, even to teachers, so she found it cool that Sae-ro-yi did something. Sae-ro-yi beams momentarily, and then Soo-ah cites reality: Sae-ro-yi got expelled. She says that she can’t live like Sae-ro-yi or his dad.
Before they head home, Sae-ro-yi awkwardly asks if she has a phone. Soo-ah offers to share her phone number, and Sae-ro-yi eagerly hands his phone to her. She says that she’s only sharing her phone number because they’re friends and warns him that he can’t start having feelings for her. He asks why, and Soo-ah explains that a headstrong person like him will make her life difficult.
Sae-ro-yi doesn’t promise anything and says that you never know what will happen between people. Soo-ah reaches for his phone to delete her number, but he escapes her grip. Before he leaves, he tells her that she’s doing great and that she’s really pretty. Then, he runs off, leaving Soo-ah to revel in the compliments.
Sae-ro-yi helps Dad set up his new restaurant space and notices that Dad seems elated. Dad explains that he had a dream of opening his own restaurant. As they set up their new space, Sae-ro-yi narrates, “My expulsion and Dad’s resignation was no big deal. Life went on, as I experienced different emotions.”
In the new restaurant, Dad, Sae-ro-yi, and Soo-ah share a celebratory first meal. Sae-ro-yi continues, “Even though I was young, I could understand life. I would think about useless things that would make Dad laugh.”
After closing up shop, Sae-ro-yi calls Dad, who rides back on his motorcycle after buying groceries. He promises to be home soon and looks at his family photo as he hangs up. Then, a car hits him from behind, and Dad rolls down the side of the road. His bloody body goes limp on the ground.
Sae-ro-yi waits for Dad and thinks, “As long as we’re alive, there would be no issue. As long as we’re alive…” Injured Dad reaches for his family photo, calling for his son. His body goes weak, and Dad lets out one last breath as a tear falls down his face.
At Dad’s memorial service, devastated Sae-ro-yi remembers the day that he was expelled from school. He cried and apologized to Dad, and he asked what Dad was thinking. Dad looked at him and assuaged his son’s guilt by saying that he saved money he would have spent on a new uniform thanks to Sae-ro-yi’s first day expulsion.
At the service, Soo-ah brings Sae-ro-yi something to eat. Sae-ro-yi doesn’t respond to her and says that he can only remember receiving everything from his father. He took his father’s giving nature for granted, and he scolds himself for being so foolish.
A police officer interrupts the mourning, and he shares that the driver who killed Dad turned himself in this morning. The police officer shares the paperwork and settlement agreement, but Sae-ro-yi is too distraught that they could put a money value to his father’s life. He falls to the ground in distress, and Soo-ah asks the police officer to return at a later time.
Soo-ah picks up the paperwork and recognizes the car in the photo through the “7777” license plate. She tells Sae-ro-yi that the car belongs to Geun-won, and Sae-ro-yi asks that Soo-ah observe the memorial while he’s out. Soo-ah tries to convince Sae-ro-yi to go to the police first, but she gives up when she sees the look in his eyes.
Sae-ro-yi goes to school and searches the classroom. He thinks about how he lost his only family, his father, before he could realize the priceless debt that he owed. He walks through the rain and goes to the hospital looking for Geun-won. He narrates, “That one person was my everything. It broke my heart that he only cared for me, and that’s why I worked hard. Dad was reason for my existence.”
When Sae-ro-yi finds Geun-won, his ex-classmate backpedals and falls to the ground, as if he’s guilty. Sae-ro-yi thinks about President Jang’s assertion that one must seek forgiveness for any wrongdoing, and he wonders what they’ve done after taking his everything.
Sae-ro-yi asks Geun-won what he’s doing on the ground and says that his reaction makes his crimes too obvious. Geun-won squirms in Sae-ro-yi’s grasp, and Sae-ro-yi doesn’t show mercy. He punches Geun-won and asks why he didn’t immediately call the hospital. Geun-won begs that they talk this out, and Sae-ro-yi punches him again.
As Geun-won desperately crawls away, Sae-ro-yi demands to know why someone else is taking Geun-won’s punishment. Sae-ro-yi asks why Geun-won killed his father, and all Geun-won can do is apologize. Sae-ro-yi says that it’s too late because the person who should receive the apology is dead, and he tells Geun-won to apologize directly to his dead father.
Sae-ro-yi uncontrollably hits Geun-won, willing him dead and almost knocking him unconscious. Then, Sae-ro-yi grabs a nearby rock and approaches Geun-won. He yells at Geun-won to die and lifts the rock to throw at his father’s killer.
I love a good angsty start to an underdog story. Consistent with the promotional materials, the first episode featured the theme of convictions and the value of living with strong beliefs, and it seems like those beliefs could put Sae-ro-yi behind bars. Seeing Sae-ro-yi’s convictions compared to his father’s sacrifice of his convictions to make a living made for interesting commentary on youth and innocence. This comparison lays a good foundation for the coming-of-age story, and I wonder what sacrifices Sae-ro-yi will come to make. It’s an interesting question — the balance of convictions and sociability — to pose from the beginning, and I hope that this theme will be the constant thread throughout the show.
The school expulsion scene revealed the conflicting fundamental values — integrity and power — between our protagonist and antagonist, and I’m interested to see how each side uses their values to justify their actions. In front of President Jang, Sae-ro-yi seemed bothered by his subservient father, and I think Dad didn’t realize how submissive his behavior was until he was standing in front of the two main influencers in his life. And in that moment, it became clear as day who mattered more. I’m sad to see Dad (and Sohn Hyun-joo) go so soon because I loved the father-son dynamic. Dad’s departure makes me wonder about Sae-ro-yi’s mother, who we know nothing about so far. Is she also gone? How does she influence Sae-ro-yi?
The first scene with Kim Da-mi was a cheeky start to the show and seemed to portray a young person’s intrepid approach to life. Everything in life can seem trivial and meaningless, and I think the comment on candid counselling was a meta touch, referencing the irony of therapy in that moment. It’s the blasé attitude about significant and dramatic wishes (like wishing for world destruction) that seems spot-on with a rebellious young spirit, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this character externalizes these emotions.
I really enjoy seeing Park Seo-joon in a commoner, more relatable role. To me, Sae-ro-yi is reminiscent of Park Seo-joon’s character in Fight My Way, just more tragic and less dumb. Of course, I’m just generalizing both characters, but I draw the comparison because I find Sae-ro-yi to be likeable and endearing, like Dong-man. And maybe Sae-ro-yi’s the haircut? Isn’t that the haircut that the Fight My Way coach had?
The first love storyline is adorable, and I love how Sae-ro-yi flouders as he tries to express his emotions. He goes from awkward and indirect, looking like a bumbling fool when he asked Soo-ah for her number, to fully honest and direct when he basically confessed his feelings for Soo-ah. I’m curious to see how Soo-ah ends up on the dark side (at least based on the posters) and where she leans in the gray area. It seemed like Sae-ro-yi’s father was the one person she truly cared about and respected, and I wonder how his influence will also impact her life. Only one way to find out… onto the next one!