High Class: Episodes 1-2 (Review)
On the beautiful shores of Jeju lies a prestigious international school for society’s upper crust. When an outsider tries to join their world, she and her son are ostracized… but is there more than mere elitism going on? Indeed, a sprinkling of creepy moments suggests that the characters in our story are anything but High Class.
Note: This is an opening week review only.
EPISODES 1-2 REVIEW
After a barrage of gorgeous Lady of Shalott-esque posters, I was hoping High Class would be a brilliant, mysterious, almost gothic drama. What we have instead is a drama about a group of conniving mothers at a prestigious school that put the characters of SKY Castle to shame. Heck, they even reference the drama, saying that they are a whole other level above the SKY Castle eschelon.
But before we find ourselves at the school, we meet our heroine, lawyer SONG YEO-WOOL (Jo Yeo-jung). She’s on a fancy yacht with her husband, receives a gift and a kiss, and then they have sex. It’s hard to tell whether we’re supposed to believe in this scene or not. Since it’s so quick, we have no basis on which to infer whether they’re really in love, or if things are as hot and amazing as they seem.
Some time later, Yeo-wool is on a plane to Jeju Island with her impossibly adorable son AHN YI-CHAN (Jang Sun-yool). They’re heading to the HSC International School, to see if little Yi-chan can get a spot. Yeo-wool has no idea at this time that getting into the school is as difficult as spinning straw into gold. Every mother on campus lives and breathes for raising the most coddled and elite children they can, with more impressive specs at six or seven years old than most people have in a lifetime.
Yeo-wool obviously doesn’t fit in much here, though she holds her own quite well. The women are wealthy, glamorous, and conniving. They have no interest in anyone that they deem beneath them — and clearly Yeo-wool and her son are in that category. How do they even have the verve to think Yi-chan can attend their school? Well, Yeo-wool got a mysterious invitation in the mail offering Yi-chan a spot if he could get through the admissions process. And how did she get the coveted invitation with no specs and no social connections? No one knows.
Despite side-eyes and distaste from every other human in the school, and a serious lack of specs compared to the other children, Yi-chan makes it through the admissions process. And so, Yeo-wool decides they’ll move to Jeju Island and start over — and they need to start over. What’s filled in during this early exposition is the fact that her husband died that night on the yacht. We see him sinking into the water, and we flash back to that scene several times. Sometimes seeing the empty water, sometimes seeing Yeo-wool standing there at the bow.
What we see of this scene is a little suspicious, if only because we’re lacking so much detail. The only thing we know for sure is that Yeo-wool is blamed for her husband’s death (although he’s noted as “missing” so who knows). He was also involved in some major fraud, so most of Yeo-wool’s life is auctioned off. Moving to Jeju is a new start from that — and just so happens there’s a fabulous home awaiting her. She’s surprised by the news that her husband secretly bought the house in her son’s name. They move in, but it seems they’re right in the hornet’s nest.
The elite mothers do everything they can to exclude Yeo-wool and Yi-chan, whether they’re passive-aggressive or downright catty to her face. I have very little patience for this storyline. Why does Yeo-wool insist on her son going there with all the ridicule they face? They’re only at the school a short time when her son is locked in a locker (and “Welcome” is written creepily in lipstick on the window), bullied by the other students, and Yeo-wool herself is sent super creepy notes, flowers, and text messages. I would have moved on and out by that point, but Yeo-wool remains.
I’m torn with this drama. About 80% of it doesn’t interest me at all — they didn’t do the best job in convincing me that Yeo-wool needs to stay there, or that the intrigues of these wealthy annoying women are worth watching. However, there’s this other 20% of the story that is intriguing, and that’s the many hints of a wider (and deeper) plot.
Strange things start happening for Yeo-wool — and not just the malicious acts at the school or the notes she’s getting. She’s perplexed by the fully-furnished house her husband bought, and particularly by a piece of art on the wall. She also finds a cell phone tucked away in the living room, with a man’s photo on the lock screen. There’s certainly something more going on with her husband’s story, why he had this house, and why fate has pulled Yeo-wool there.
Also, the headmistress of the school is super duper creepy, but she acts harmless and tells Yeo-wool that her husband was a huge benefactor of the school — that’s the reason her son was automatically admitted. But what else is going on? Each mother (and everyone, really) seems to be hiding a secret, and it’s unclear who is involved in something shady, and who’s just calculating for basic chaebol reasons.
The other thing that turned me off on this drama — and I didn’t realize it till very late on — is that it’s almost solely comprised of women, and none of them very likable. The conniving chaebol mother character has to be really deliciously evil in order for it to be fun, and the characters here were more irritating than interesting. Even Yeo-wool herself I don’t really like. We’re purposefully unsure if we should trust her all the way (which I do like about this setup), but she’s kind of fuddy duddy and straight-laced. I believe the intention is to contrast her character to that of the chaebol women, but right now it just makes her feel rather bland.
Are there any men in this drama at all? Yeo-wool’s husband has about two minutes on screen, and the other women’s husbands about the same. We are introduced to one male character, though. One afternoon when Yeo-wool is taking a walk along the shore, she trips in the sand and winds up falling in the water. She was carrying her heels, but one starts to float off as she tries to collect herself.
Luckily, Yeo-wool is helped by a handsome surfer (Ha Joon) with perfect wet hair and a cheeky manner. (If it sounds familiar it’s because we saw a practically identical setup in Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha — something with surfers and high heels in dramaland lately.) This surfer will surely wind up to be connected to the school and/or married to one of the mothers we’ve already met, and I’m sure there’s more to this meeting than meets the eye.
The same goes for the young mother that Yeo-wool is partnered with. She’s the lovely HWANG NA-YOON (Park Se-jin), who’s dreamy, sweet, and the only other woman around that seems to be kind-hearted and normal (despite being obscenely wealthy). However, we can only trust her so far as well — we get a few warning shots from the drama that perhaps she’s involved in this mysterious setup too.
With all of this wealth, and nothing and no one to trust in, it’s Yeo-wool’s sweet relationship with her son that’s the grounding element of this drama (and wonderfully authentic). They clearly adore each other, and we know that Yeo-wool will do anything to protect him… and it might just come to that, if things continue in the way they’re going.
For a premiere week, we have a pretty good setup of the drama to come, with just the right amount of questions hanging in the air. It’s just a pity that in order to answer these questions, we have to spend countless more hours with the mothers of the HSC International School.