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The Midnight Romance in Hagwon: Episodes 1-2

Slow paced with a dose of realism, tvN’s latest romance is setting us up for complicated emotions as a star teacher at a hagwon collides with her former student. He’s all grown up and looking to follow in her inspirational footsteps — and from the looks of it, also to put the moves on her.

 
EPISODES 1-2

The Midnight Romance in Hagwon: Episodes 1-2

The Midnight Romance in Hagwon is finally here and the first two episodes are a lot of setup. Along with being introduced to our leads, we’re also taken into the world of high school education, where there’s rivalry between the teachers at the public high schools and those at the private after-school institutes (the hagwon of our drama’s title) that help students prepare for exams. This battle will be the backdrop to our romance story, where tension is rising as teachers compete for the students’ attention (and money).

The main action takes place at Daechi Chase, a hagwon in the affluent Daechi-dong area of Seoul. Even though they have legendary teacher SEO HYE-JIN (Jung Ryeo-won) working for them, they still need to fight to stay relevant as new hagwon pop up on every corner. It’s a high pressure job given that all the instructors are in competition with each other, but more so for Hye-jin because she’s so sought after. With students and parents trusting her so much, she winds up getting involved personally in the students’ lives.

And we see this might be a perpetual thing for her when she runs into her former student, LEE JUN-HO (Wie Ha-joon). He was the first student at the hagwon to win a university scholarship (accounted for on the scholarship wall of fame) and Hye-jin’s career was also boosted for being his teacher at the time.

When Jun-ho stops by Daechi Chase after hours and runs into Hye-jin tipping back a few beers, she’s excited to see him and says that when he got into college, it was the best moment of her life. He’s even saved in her phone as “My Pride.” Already, I’m thinking she has a problem with boundaries.

The Midnight Romance in Hagwon: Episodes 1-2

It’s been ten years since they were teacher and student and Jun-ho is now thirty, still living at home, and working at an office job that offers prestige. But, he’s not making the kind of money he wants. So, when Hye-jin — whose face is on the ads for Daechi Chase — starts bragging about how much she earns, Jun-ho takes it to heart. When the hagwon gives a test to recruit new teachers, Jun-ho is there, ready to change career paths and make more money, even if society (and his parents) don’t see it as high status as the job he has.

Hye-jin responds by taking Jun-ho to dinner to discuss why he’s pursuing teaching — especially at her school of all places — and inform him that she thinks he’s nut for quitting his company. He’s cheeky the whole time, pressing forward with his decision as she tries to talk him out of it. No matter how serious she seems, he smiles and treats it all as a joke.

The Midnight Romance in Hagwon: Episodes 1-2

There is something about their rapport that isn’t sitting right with me just yet. We know that Jun-ho comes around once a year on Teachers’ Day to say hi, so it’s not like they haven’t seen each other at all in the past ten years. But, at the same time, they seem too close already for people who were just teacher and student. There’s a definite “old friends” vibe about them that doesn’t initially smack of tension, but isn’t really comfortable either.

Jun-ho is clearly teasing her in a way that says he likes her — but it’s also little kiddish and seems more like an innocent crush. The way she responds, trying to ensure that he doesn’t get a job at her hagwon, says to me that she might have deeper feelings than he does, or that she’s willing to admit (even to herself). Whatever is happening, it’s making me very uneasy — and I think that’s entirely the point.

When Jun-ho makes it to the next round and has to give a lecture as part of the hiring process, Hye-jin goes to her higher ups and asks that Jun-ho be rejected. The problem is that Jun-ho does really well during his lecture, even reprimanding Hye-jin like a student for not paying attention to him (she won’t even look up from her desk at him, she’s avoiding him so much).

Still, it’s clear how much he admires her, talking about his own trajectory, and how one teacher inspired him and changed his life. Hye-jin was still a college student herself when she was his instructor, but she taught him how to think, not just what to study. He became curious and wanted to study on his own — and that’s the mark of a great teacher that he wants to emulate.

With his application moving forward, and Hye-jin having no success in arguing against it, she asks Jun-ho to meet her at the library they used to go to every weekend when he was her student. She tells him he can’t work at Daechi Chase and that she lied about his college acceptance being the happiest moment of her life. Really, she was happy she got a bonus for it, so she could pay her own tuition. Also, her job isn’t that great, even if she was bragging about the money.

Jun-ho gets annoyed at what she’s saying and adds that it’s odd she’s taking it so personally that he wants to work as a hagwon teacher. Then he calls her out on the behavior that’s bothering me so much: “Will it matter to you if the institute finds out what you’re doing right now? You’re meeting an applicant in private and pressuring him to drop out.” At that, Hye-jin storms off. And when Jun-ho follows her to her car and says he’ll drive, she tells him to take the bus before pulling away.

The Midnight Romance in Hagwon: Episodes 1-2

Finally, after a conversation with her boss where he pushes her to reconsider, Hye-jin accepts that Jun-ho can work at Daechi Chase. And she’s the one to give him the news — by meeting him at a café at night. She apologizes for crossing the line and for hurting him. Then she starts detailing how hard the job is going to be — which is when he realizes he’s hired. He smiles and begins to joke around again, and she tells him he won’t have time to tease her anymore because the job is going to take too much energy. Then she dismisses him from the conversation.

Hye-jin never drops her attitude while she’s telling him all this. So, on one hand, it seems she’s setting a boundary that he keeps trying to cross. But on the other, continually meeting him outside is betraying any boundary she’s trying to set. Her feelings are definitely complicated, even if I’m not totally sure of her motives.

When Jun-ho begins work, the head of the academy asks if he’d be interested in being the new face of Daechi Chase. Even though he has no prior teaching experience, his own story is enough of a qualification. This implies that he’d be ousting Hye-jin from the spot. Jun-ho replies that a story about a teacher and student going forward together could be an even more touching approach. This is where we leave off for the week, giving us a hint that Jun-ho isn’t going to compete with his former teacher, but try to ensure they’re walking side by side.

With a lot of breathing room for things to unfold, I hope the drama will go deep into the complications that could arise here. We have a lot of different dynamics to cover from workplace entanglements to noona romance to teacher/student dilemmas. So far, it seems clear cut: he’s laying his cards on the table and she’s trying to cover over her feelings. But I don’t believe it will be so simple.

As we dig into their history together, I’d wager we’re in for secrets that will make sense of Hye-jin’s strong response. The two have a kind of intimacy that manifests as him being relaxed and her being terse, but never is there any real tension. Whether it will be ramped up gradually, or we’ll ease into another kind of comfort, I’ll definitely be sticking around to see how it plays out.

 
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I'm buying everything Midnight Hagwon is selling expect Wi Ha Joon's acting. He doesn't feel natural most of the time. Like he's forcing his smile a little too much. And he also seems to be one of those actors that has more chemistry with his bro than the female lead.
That said, I'm hoping that the dynamic switch we had at the end of episode 2 helps with the romantic element of the drama.

1. I love the FL.
I like her big heart and sincerity. I like that she learns from her mistakes and tries to correct them (a brilliant quality for a teacher). I like how responsable she is with her job. I like how proud she is of it, and has a clear vision of it's purpose.

I liked watching how she kept emphasizing to the mothers and students that they should respect the teachers from the schools. She knows that both, the schools and the academies, has their own value. And I liked how she kept emphasizing to the annoying teacher that he should hear the students. She was there to protect/help her student and not to start a debate about education, ahjussi!

I also liked how she's the type to say something like "I love my job but don't recommend it". 😂 She understands the reality of the world she lives in. She just wanted to keep guiding her student to the "best" path according to standards of the society they live in. She obviously crossed the line, but when she was called out about it, she fixed her mistakes. She's an admirable queen.

2. The ML. I don't know if it was the acting, or because of the way the FL and his parents treat him, or the fact that he talks like everything is a joke, but I can't take him seriously.

And that's why I didn't try to understand him either. Is he trying to become independent? He wants more money? He wants to be famous? I don't get it. 😆 I hope next week will be better (his POV).

3. Work life.
Why is everyone on that office so charming and lovely? isn't this probably the first (and last) place in kdramaland to have such a healthy work environment? If this was any other drama, there would've been already 3 scandals because the FL had drinks with her male boss, make coworker, and male ex-student. 😂 And probably all of them would be in love with her.
I like that people here can talk without it becoming a crime.

I also like that she's good at her job and popular, and that doesn't mean half of the people in her office hates her for that and wants to bring her down.

I'm a little scared the new employees will start with the jealousy, tho. They could think Joon Ho is getting especial treatment.

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4. The other "teacher".

Reality and kdramas have shown us how many f up things are in the educational system. It's understandable for a teacher like him to have many complains, and a broken pride.
But taking his anger out on the kids is so low. Especially because he wasn't really worried about education, he was worried about status and authority.

The kid that got the "incorrect" answer seems to be at her breaking point. The last thing she needs is her teacher to mess with the program just to protect his pride and regain "power". He used them to prove a point, and scared them with their grades and academic points.
This ahjussi should watch Duty After School's final 10min to get an idea of the seriousness of this situation.

It was also funny to see how he had no intention of listening to anyone about the question. He just couldn't accept that he was wrong.

He wouldn't listen to his students, he didn't try to listen to the FL when he thought she was the mother of one of the students, and he definitely wasn't going to listen to a teacher from a hwagon.
That's the kind of "teacher" that doesn't really care about the students learning things (and definitely doesn't want them to think for themselves), just memorize, repeat, and follow.

Instead of apologizing to the students for the mistake in the exam and for not listening to them, what he did was punished them.

We saw how big things can get. We saw the parents calling and putting pressure to redo the exam. So I guess it makes sense for a school teacher to be scared, but the real reason why everything got so big was because he didn't listen to his student and refused to fix his mistake.

He should do some work on himself and think again about what being a teacher means to him. Even his coworker seemed ashamed of him.

Anyway, I'm enjoying the social commentary (finally a kdrama that has something to say these days), and I can't wait to see the teachers at our hagwon doing the best for the kids.
I'm hoping we'll get some cool teachers at the schools too.
It'll be nice to see the good and bad things of both places, and how it affects the students.

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@enriquequierecagar I believe you totally misinterpreted what the school teacher was doing. He was not "taking it out" on the students. In fact, by moving toward essays and offering his own after school tutoring so they could do better in his class, he was trying to reorient the class away from the Hagwon method of only teaching toward the test, and more toward students understanding his approach to the material. If he had not grabbed the FL, which in my opinion should have been a fireable offense, then I would be in total sympathy with him and NOT the FL. His apology trying to buy her dinner clarified his response, and admitted that he was being too defensive, and that in the end she had a valid point about the answer to the test question.

That does NOT excuse his physical violence, I still think he should be fired for that--but I think he will be shown to have good motives in the end.

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@hacja @enriquequierecagar The school teacher was being defensive and perhaps slightly entitled as well. Was surprised he insisted on having the discussion in front of his colleagues. Disappointed on how he handled the problem, but as a teacher myself, I can sympathize with him. Him giving extra lesson for the students is his way to getting their trusts. Again hoping this show somehow promotes collaborative work between school and academy rather than a mere competition.

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It's nice to see the hear the different perspectives.

I was the stressed student obsessed with grades in my school years. So maybe that teacher is annoying me a little more than he should. LOL I can see where he's coming from, but I still don't like it. All I can think of is about the students being the ones that have to deal with the consequences.

I also hope it doesn't become a competition. I would prefer to see more of the teachers (from school and academy) actually teaching and guiding the kids.

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I think the schoolteacher was very flustered when Hye-ji initially came into the office. Yes, she called first so he had some time to prepare for her arrival, but I think he over-estimated his ability to explain the question and also didn't realize that having all his colleagues around him at that time would add to the stress of the whole situation. As @hacja said, once he grabbed Hye-ji (so hard, in fact, that we could see he left a noticeable wound on her shoulder), he lost all of the moral high ground. Prior to that, when he condescended to her, he didn't do himself any favors either, but the escalation to physical violence ruined any credibility he may have had in that moment.

I didn't necessarily see entitlement from him, but severe defensiveness, which he later confessed to in the restaurant. Like you both, I had some sympathy for the teacher's position; it definitely is frustrating when students are so focused on getting the right answer on a test rather than truly understanding the material. But like you said, the solution--if there is one--is not to villainize the tutors or see the teachers as old-fashioned, but to have both sides come together in some way to make sure the students are truly prepared for both the tests and the college courses ahead of them.

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But he himself said he was ready for a battle. I don't think his decision was based on
fairness for the students, but instead he's only trying to take the control of what the kids learn.

If he really was thinking of the kids, the last thing he should do is change everything last minute. The sent the kids ok panic and now they feel like they have to start all over again.

He didn't apologized to students about the question and not listening to them either. He apologized to the FL on a very passive aggressive way, and that's why she ended up getting out of the room after he declared "war".

I think making the essays are better for him, because it will make it harder for the kids to complain about the grades, and the textbook emphasis is also to have something to protect himself. If only the textbook he chooses is valid to write an essay, isn't that putting limits and making the kids learn to think in "x" determined way too? Well, maybe this is just another conversation and my own problem with education, but he never talks about what the kids learn, need or think. He just keeps talking about himself, hagwons, "teacher qualifications", and who's right or wrong.

And that's why my problem with him is that he seems more focused on what hagwons do or not do, than the students themselves.

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I interpreted his "ready for battle" to mean that he despises the private after-school system because it's for-profit, and also implies that actual schools will never be worth much.

He was a fairly young and inexperienced teacher, whereas she's highly experienced, talented, and also has specialized in what she does, whereas a regular school teacher has a lot of other duties. He didn't see her coming at all, and was kind of humiliated, in front of his colleagues at that, and handled it terribly. (A lot of things around sexism, hierarchy and losing face in that scene).

I respect what he's trying to do now, to do better by the kids.

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Sorry, I should clarify - I respect that he clearly says there'll be no 'gotcha' questions based on assumed knowledge from outside the curriculum.

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there is a bigger problem.. the actual intelligent smart folks don't become teachers.. more so school teachers

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You should watch Little Women and Romance is a bonus book ... because Wi Ha Joon has great chemistry with the female leads and second female lead too (in the latter).

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I agree that Wi Ha Joon's acting is the weak point here. Hoping it will get better.

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oh i thought i was the only one who felt ML was just not doing well in the acting dept.. very very forced

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I think you might have missed a few things about the work environment. 1. The heavy responsibility that her coworkers and supervisors place on her to placate and keep the parents happy. Managing the parents seem to be almost solely her responsibility. (This is not including the ridiculous expectations of the parents, that is not only tolerated, but treated as only right.) 2. The way they kept coercing her to offer more classes while her load is already exceptionally heavy. 3. The way that one coworker dismisses any concern for her because apparently she is very well paid, so deserves no sympathy. 4. Her own admission that there is no teamwork in their office, every other teacher is a competitor. I could go on... but suffice to say I don't think her work environment is meant to come across as healthy.

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I mean that it is very healthy for kdramaland standards, where people just stab their coworkers in the back 24/7. They cheat, steal, and are in general fake/hypocrites. Always trying to bring each other down, and also make crazy rumors for everything (especially for a woman like her).

I think all the things you mentioned are just realistically sad. Like the life of a (star) workaholic teacher of a hagwon. But even if the place itself isn't healthy, the people there are just doing what they're supposed or think they have to do: their jobs (and nothing else). Which is a miracle to see in kdramas. 😂

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As i was watching these episodes the Ahn Pan-soek formula checklist kept whirling through my mind.

-The slightly opaque color grading
-The neutral coloured clothing of the cast
-Half the scenes being shot at night
-The indie-pop english language soundtrack
-The slighly loud music/scoring when characters are speaking.

and of course the May/December romantic pairing at the centre if it all.

Despite the formula i found the first 2 episodes to be engaging, we got a good introduction to the characters and the setting, im sure the central conflict will be introduced in the next few episodes.

Im definately sticking around.

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Your formula checklist is right on. But unlike you, I recognized the formula and knew this was a drama for me. It has a "realism' feel that other dramas don't. The only item on the checklist that I hope they don't lean on too much is the English language pop songs. PLEASE let them vary the songs more than they usually do.

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The lyrics in this one feel awkward, and I know I'll come to fast-forward through the song parts soon. Everything else about it I do like.

Like others have said above, the ordinariness of the workplace interactions feels like a breath of fresh air.

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Agreed except for the "May/December" thing. I don't think they're quite that far apart in age so in that sense it feels less like "Secret Love Affair" (20 years apart) or "Something in the Rain" (around 8 years, I think). Here, the ML is 30, and in that flashback we see that she was in her third year of college when he was either in his third or fourth year of college. That would make them around five years apart, at most, right? So more like June/August, lol.

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Yes. A woman in her 30s (character) or 40s (actor's real-life age) is not in the December of her life, regardless of the age difference with her romantic partner. 🙄

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I was quite elated at the thought that the ML would NOT be the FL leads responsibility. At one point, the director was saying that he would give the other team leader time so he could be placed in the other team. But no, once FL changed her mind, ML was in her team. I was really hoping that it would not be an icky boss/subordinate dynamic for once. I shudder to think about what actual workspaces in Korea are like for young singles, if this sort of love affair is routinely accepted in dramas.
(Yes, I know that there is lots of unreality in dramas- its the 'routine' bit that bothers me. If they just did it in dramas occasionally I would sigh, but not be so concerned)
On the plus side, the director has made it clear that FL does not have the hiring/firing decisions.
I think the major conflict for the drama has already been flagged as the fight with the school teacher.

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As I argued above, the major conflict for the drama might be with the teacher, as representative of the hagwon vs. the public school system, but the one thing I liked about this episode is that with the exception of the physical grabbing (which was a BIG exception, I admit) the teacher really wasn't wrong in what he was saying about her interference, and his apology and changing of his position highlighted two different approaches: the hagwon approach of only teaching so that you can get it right on the test (which is what the FL said to her class) vs. the approach of learning the text and being able to write intelligently about it.

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That might be true if the teacher's actions after the apology were different. But the teacher changed his approach to one where ONLY the textbook mattered and ONLY the textbook would be taught. So the Teacher's approach is going to be the rote-learning regurgitate approach. Versus our Hagwon FL inspiring a love of learning for its own sake, and a process of understanding the text. The teacher's apology was actually a declaration of war.
The fact that the teacher also was offering after school tutorials was part of the war declaration- attempting to remove student ( and money) from the Hagwons

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But the fact the teacher changed the test to essays proves that there now can be multiple answers to a question as long as the student can articulate and explain their reasoning, unlike a multiple choice format where there is only one “correct” answer. I fail to see how that is rote learning?

Offering free after school tutorials actually seems fair to me? Especially as not all students can afford Hagwons. He might have ulterior motives yes, for hating Hagwons, but his actions actually help the students who are at a disadvantage, who can’t afford these private classes. Again I fail to see the problem from here?

Honestly, I don’t particularly like the school teacher myself. He should’ve took the student’s worries/questions seriously and instead of apologising to the FL actually apologise to his students for not listening and dismissing them

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No, there will not be 'multiple answers', he has clearly said that what the textbook says is the only answer. That is only one correct answer, and rote learning. The format of giving an answer ( an essay ) does not change that.

I agree there is no actual problem with free after school lessons. I am just pointing out his reasons for doing that are because of revenge, not for the good of the students. Poor students getting help is just a side effect.

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Not to belabor this point--I don't think it will be that big a deal once the romance heats up, (which I sure hope will be soon!) rendering comments like mine beside the point (as if they aren't already!)
But I really do think its possible that by restricting his teaching to the text, what the teacher was doing was removing the supplemental study guide that the hagwons depend on--that is what they can teach, that "Mr. X always asks these questions, so prepare for this." The concern of the one student about whether the knowledge would be standardized reflects a worry about whether the material would be relevant to a larger subject test (in other words, the question I heard as much as any one question in my whole teaching career "will this be on the test?")

Besides, wasn't he a literature teacher? So the text would be an anthology of writing excerpts or short stories, not a textbook in the sense of a dry presentation of facts. Its pretty hard to regurgitate fiction, although many kdrama sageuks, romances, and fantasies do their best!

As you said, this does mean that he was "attacking" the hagwons; but I think it very possible that this show will present a more nuanced perspective, with his position being somewhat sympathetically presented. Let me say that I kind of liked that the FL didn't come across as some sort of teaching saint, although it could be as the show moves on she will be glorified as a wonderful example who transcends an awful system. I hope not--it would be great if the show continues its more complex portrait of her character. That's also why I hope the classroom teacher turns out to be more than just a cartoon villain, which would just be standard kdrama fare.

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ML read from the textbook during his lecture presentation. It was an explanatory sentence about a novel, not an anthology textbook. An exposition, not an opportunity to explore.

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Thanks @hacja another round of thought provoking responses! I believe that the student who got the answer 'wrong' was actually displaying critical thinking when interpreting the answer and that both answers were indeed correct. How to navigate your way when education objectives are ultimately based on final exam scores...do we study to score well or do we study to learn how to think? Are they mutually exclusive?

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@vladdles I think you are right about the student, and you put this quite well--if this was just about the educational system that would be a great theme. But maybe it will somehow be transferred to the romance--is happily ever after the goal, or is the process of learning to love more important? Would that ever be cheesy! as the english subs like to say in translation. (What is the Korean phrase they are translating as "cheesy?")

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Thank you! And yes I agree that the issues surrounding education vs learning will be mirrored in the romance...please show do it well!

PS I read your Mothers' Day post and was very moved, it resonated...

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Somehow this show reminds me of Crash Course in Romance and a bit wary of how this would play out. Crossing my finger, the show doesn't take the same route as CCIR so I can enjoy this one. Liking the FL so far and in need of more story from the ML as to why he insisted on changing path on his career. I don't buy his reasons, yet.

Not that rating has impact on me, but still find it unbelievable how some people can already judge a show that has just aired. I assume they did it unconsciously.

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A lot of my thoughts about this come from my 45+ years career in education. But because of that, I wonder if this will be appealing to any but fellow educators and Wi Ha-joon fans. I did not find the character of the FL initially very appealing. (More about her professionally later). As for the ML, I’m sure his motives about quitting his job are mixed, and include his interest in the FL in some way, but I didn’t sense any immediate rapport with the FL. It was mostly him trying to be friendly and relaxed, and she being both condescending and, as her friend pointed out her, strangely hostile. I’m sure that dynamic will be explained, but it wasn’t a promising start, because there seemed to be no reason for any sort of extension of a past student crush on his tutor.

I could see someone who wasn’t interested in education just being a little bored, actually, because right now there wasn’t much chemistry between the leads, and it seems the setup is fairly predictable — they’ll fall for each other, if they haven’t already, and there will be a “scandal” when the two leads get involved, and since these for profit academies are at the mercy of parent customers, one of them will be fired, testing their love. Etc. etc. I guess the one interesting possibility, as @dramaddictally points out, will be if there is some major reveal about one or or both of the leads and what that might be.

But let me get to the education part, and here I know this will be even more boring to most than my opinion about their romantic chemistry, so I’ll post it in followup comments that can can be skipped.

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I agree that right now, there's no real suggestion of romantic interest from either side. As I said below, I can see a hint of awareness from the ML and maybe from the FL, but it could easily be ascribed to the general sense of physical attraction that anyone might find themselves feeling for an attractive person directly in their sphere (the human sexuality version of a dog thinking "squirrel!")

That said, I did like the FL more than you do. I agree that she over-stepped when reaching out directly to the teacher, and my sympathies were also more with the schoolteacher during their confrontations (except, of course, when he crossed the line into insults and physical violence). But overall, I found her to competent, driven, genuinely kind, emotionally controlled, smart, and intriguing. I didn't quite understand the somewhat condescending and even hostile way she reacted to the ML wanting to work at the hagwon, but as you said, I'm sure that will be explained in more detail later.

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First, the tension between the hagwons and the public schools, with differing levels of compensation for the teachers, but with the hagwons leeching off the public school teachers initial presentation of the subject, has been dealt with in other shows. But with my sympathies entirely on the side of public school teachers. I really felt the FL overstepped in her confrontation with the teacher. I know we were supposed to feel sympathy with her because she was doing it for the student, but his judgement as to the right answer was not unreasonable. And what was the issue—an interpretative question about whether it was paradox or irony?—man, that is just a good argument for not giving multiple choice questions when teaching humanities. Please, all you high school teachers of literature and history out there, avoid multiple choice questions whenever you can! That's why I think the teacher made the right move in going to essay questions, regardless of his rivalry with the hagwons.

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Another issue— as the show did point out, the FL way overstepped her bounds in her hostile discouragement of the ML’s teaching ambitions. What kind of caring teacher would do that to a former student? I assume we’ll get some explanation of that, but it certainly appeared that she liked that her successful student was employed at a prestige corporation rather than working as a lowly teacher, so that she was allowing her ego about having successful students to get the best of her.

Finally, the teaching tryouts, with the candidates trying to be “creative” were painful and hilarious to watch, not just because I had to do about 10 of those demonstration teaching sessions when I was trying to get a job, but also as a member of multiple hiring committees, I had to endure dozens of really strained class sessions with candidates trying to be flashy and creative, rather than showing they had the subject down and could present it in a lively way that students could understand. Of course, this was with live classes of actual students which made it even worse when the candidates tried to play some sort of cute historical game which made students sullen and unresponsive. (Although to their credit, most students really tried to help out the candidates.) Those two demonstrations were really on the edge of trying to be way too clever, and as the FL pointed out, the ML didn't really talk about his subject.

Anyway, the one hilarious line from the ML’s teaching session was when he was describing that he knew the intellectual competition out there was tough, because he had experienced it: “And then there’s some bastard reading Hegel! Hegel!"

I wonder if the dialectic of romance will be a major theme of this show!

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We have the same mind on how the FL overstepped on both counts; the ML and the school teacher. Again I can see where she came from. Parents pressured her to take an action about the test. From CCIR, Sky Castle, and this, I assume parents are king in academy so she had to do it somehow. I actually like how she handled it- reaching out for the teacher in private (She called him).
Her reactions to ML choice is pretty much like a parent whose child wanting the same career path. Teaching isn't exactly the most promising career, so her initial response is valid. I'm glad she changed her mind about it, though.

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Yes, that interaction really made me dislike the FL and really the whole system. First, the drama over a single question on a multiple-choice test in a high school class is just insane! The whole point of the Korean system was originally supposed to be fairness. Anyone, regardless of social class, could study for the test and succeed. But what happens to students who can't afford the hagwon and don't have parents and hagwon teachers to bully their public school teachers? I also agree that essays are a much better tool to develop critical thinking and writing skills. It's much harder to game an essay than a multiple choice test. (Of course the physical violence was terrible and made me feel more empathy for her, though.)

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Thank you @Dramaddictally for your thoughtful review as ever! Show is off to a good start with the groundwork laid out with little glimpses of the obstacles and romance to come. Seo Hye-Jin's forewarning that colleagues will either compete with or use you is prescient seeing that the director of the academy is wanting to use Lee Jun-Ho as a marketing strategy and consequently making him Hye-Jin's competition. Jun-Ho countered this well by suggesting the teacher/student story, which will throw him and Hye-Jin together more but how long will that last further down the track when, I suspect, falling student enrolments begin to occur?

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Did I enjoy these two episodes? Yes. Did I have a Wikipedia page by the hand to look up stuff about the education system in Korea? Also yes. Do I actually understand it? Not really.

But despite that, there's something compelling about the stories. I'm on board for now, so let's see where this takes us.

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More than having feelings for Jun-ho, I think Hye-jin thinks of him as the 18-year-old boy she met 10 years ago. That is why she was too at ease around him and tried to convince him out of the instructor's job as a noona taking care of a younger brother.

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Well said. Although I got a little hum of attraction from Jun-ho towards Hye-jin, I did not get anything from here yet. If she did feel some spark and recognition when seeing Jun-ho again, it would have been only be a quick, basic kind of physical reaction like "Oh, there's a hot guy in front of me!" that she immediately tamped down and forgot about. The show is being careful here, I think, to avoid suggesting there was anything inappropriate in the FL's feelings towards the ML in the past. But I wouldn't be surprised if we learn that he had a crush on her.

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it would be weird if she thought romantically ...

i would assume, she should be his first love and not the other way round...him being her crush

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I don't think they have already feelings for each other.

Jun-Ho is Hye-Jin's pride, she saw him doing great things and she could say he was her student. Her life is only her job but the sacrifices are worthy because thanks to her there was people like Jun-Ho who did great. I think it was more her pride that makes her act like this than feelings for him.

Jun-Ho was pretty honest, he chose another job because he wants to be free from his parents' money, something that is very complicated today.

I don't understand why she didn't tell him the realities of her job before, the first time they talked about it.

I liked both characters. Jun-Ho is very confident and charismatic, it will be interesting to see if this new job will tame this confidence or not.

Hye-Jin is very capable but she doesn't seem to have a life outside her job. She doesn't seem to see that her colleague looks pretty interested in her.

The debate school - academies already started with the The National School Teachers' Union complaining about the portrayals of teachers, the education system and the fact the drama focused on academy.

I think they should have waited for the end of the drama to see what the drama's message is and not after 2 episodes. But the Korean education system is problematic and they should be honest with that.

Otherwise, it was fun to see so many familiar faces! A lot of actors want to act with this PD.

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Totally agree with you that they don't have feelings yet. More like this younger brother that I used to tutor was able to achieve such great things but wants to 'downgrade' into a Hagwon teacher and is making the biggest wrong decision.

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Agree. I can’t say what he felt for her when young. But her feelings are more about feeling proud and responsible when her students achieve great things. And she knows her job is not seen as a job of high social status. So she is disappointed in him for throwing away something others would kill to have.

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they have.. it is their in the trailer..one of them is other person's first love

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there*

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Oh it ain’t kdrama without the first love huh

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the trailer has a dialogue

Does X know that X is Y's first love :D

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It doesn't mean he's still in love with her. I'm pretty sure between he dated other girls. He can have some nostalgic feelings but pure love?

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may have dated... but the way the episodes were shown..with him looking at her poster at the bus stand and teacher interview.. looks like she is one of the reason

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I'm liking it so far and we shall see how this will play out.

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The characters in an An Pan-seok drama always come across as more 'normal' and 'realistic' and this one is no exception. No need for serial killers!

The education pressures in Korea are a frequent drama topic, but rarely shown as well as here. The pictures of the many tall tower blocks, where thousands of people live in cramped flats, are used to show the background and reason for the extreme competition for the top grades.

I am also on the side of the school teacher. He is a frustrated educator who cares about his subject and the children, but has to deal with the pressure of the parents and kids who are basically trying to buy grades - not education and knowledge - from academies who are in it for the money. I like that the school teacher is trying to make a stand, but I fear that this is a futile battle.

The academies don't have it so easy either, as Fl explained to ML in her rant about the kids: a rise in grades is the achievement of the child, a fall in grades the failure of the teacher!

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they're setting the education system as the serial killer, there's no need for a dude in a black cap for once.

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Way more victims!

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@darkcc Funny! But, lets not forget, it will also be a road to romance. I just wish they had called it My Lovely Hagwon.

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Watching Ahn Pan Seok PD’s dramas is an immersive experience for me. Right from the first frame, I am reeled into the world of his story telling. This drama is no different. There is something familiar about all this, yet it evokes a sense of anticipation or rather trepidation. Having seen his dramas, I find his social commentary very fascinating. There were some intense scenes these two episodes. The one between the teachers.

The conversation between the leads when she finally switches gears with him was so well done. How do you romance with an existing teacher-student dynamic? This is how you do it. In that one scene, we see how everything changes. Both the leads are awesome here. I only see their characters. I always liked Jung Ryeo Won, and its nice to see her here. Wi Ha joon, as the young, ambitious albeit a tad overconfident and reckless youngster, is perfect!

I look forward to this journey.

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Jung Ryeo Won commented how Ahn Pan Seok loves to film long scene in one take. His scenes are not cut in a lot of plans and it really works with the story he wants to tell.

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I like, too, that the story starts where it does, with both leads already adults. When I read the synopsis, I assumed it would begin with them in a tutor/student relationship (as in "Melancholia," are far inferior drama) and if it had, it might have made it more difficult for some to accept the later romance. This way, although we can still see remnants of their old rapport in their current one, they seem to be at a place in both their lives that a romantic relationship makes sense.

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I would not mind if we never see the ‘past’ again. Will prefer that. The little we saw was enough.

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This show so far is a near miss for me. It's not quite hitting--why I don't exactly know. The romantic aspect is still a work in progress as they have to transition from teacher/student, "my pride"/"my transformational teacher" relationship, to a place of more equals. The main's chemistry in the posters and the press tour has yet to spark for me (but maybe that is appropriate before the transition to co-workers).

The biggest problem of the show for me, however, may be my constant ill-ease about the whole education system in Korea. The tension between the schools and the hagwons is real as so much of the college admission process rides on a single test. Teaching to the test is different than teaching to inspire learning, critical thinking, or life skills. I think School 2013 set up the tension really well--here, it feels icky and so stressful somehow; more Sky Castle, less School 2013. Maybe it's true to the current educational pressures, or maybe it's because the three main teachers presented all seem to have motivations that are partly rooted in their own self interests and self preservation/advancement. I felt stressed the whole time, and it's unclear who's actually serving the interest of the students (short or long term). Even in the scenes between the leads, which are supposed to be a bit of haven for that stress (or is it?), have that awful realistic stress about the educational system present so that it was hard for me to enjoy their banter. Funny enough though, for a show so much about the education system, not a single student was fleshed out on the show--Jun Ho doesn't really count as he has passed through it and out--so it feels like a bunch of adults trying to tame and game system while the nameless students are trying to survive.

It's still the set up episodes, so I will continue to watch. However, I was surprised at how much these episodes left me with a sense of uneasiness, a stark contrast to the muted soothing colors of the show's posters.

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i am conflicted. not a noona romance drama fan but have been waiting for wi ha joon to land a lead role. i just dislike the way women are written/portrayed in the dramas ahn pan-soek directs. the leading men are written extremely well as passionate protectors but the women tend to have an irrationally emotional side or carry this painful (sometimes pathetic or self-indulging) nature that just doesn't rock with me.

but is this drama worth watching if i have these thoughts already or do i need to consider a different mindset?

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Of the three APS dramas I've seen, I only found the portrayal of gender inequality or issues poorly drawn in "Something in the Rain." But that seemed to be a problem with a weak script, not anything particular to the style of direction. In fact, in "Secret Love Affair" and "One Spring Night," I thought both leads and side characters (so not just female characters) had what you refer to as an "irrational emotional side" and carried pain from past trauma, or had a tendency to sometimes be weak-willed or troubled. But to me, that made them human and created both internal and external conflict that fueled the story. So far, I see "Midnight" following the same pattern with complex characters who are, at times, both strong and weak but no obvious gendered pattern of behavior has emerged as far as I can see.

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secret love affair by no means is a weak FL.. assuming that's the one with Yoo ah in..

that was a very well done drama

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Yes, that's the one. I agree that she is very strong, although, of course, deeply flawed. And she does spend a great deal of the early episodes being subservient to the wealthy and privileged around her because she believes that's what she must do to succeed in society. But I didn't see that as a sign of weakness but instead, complexity, and the whole story is about how she and the ML together evolve in their ways of looking at the world. Love that drama!

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ah!.. hate losing the actor Yoo ah in..

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@alasecond

I was thinking about him and who could do this kind of role. YAI is irreplaceable, but maybe Byun Yo-han or Son Suk-ku from 15 years ago. LOL

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complex and nuanced characters really carry interesting plots and i do want to challenge my views on storytelling so i will give your message some thought. i just don't know why, but i'll need to investigate why the female leads in "one spring night", "something in the rain", and even "secret love affair" make me uncomfortable and honestly, disturbed. there's probably more to them than i see and i believe the way directors portray the characters already written (the angles, scenes, etc) does affect the way the character comes across so maybe i'll be more focused on the writing instead.

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Only halfway through ep1, I’m conflicted exactly for the same reason as you, @danyavln. I’m dreading Jung Ryeowon ‘s character becoming dislikable—or at least frustrating to watch—in the way Sohn Yejin’s character did in Something in the Rain.

That show gave me mild ptsd, and seeing almost 100% of the same character actors (all of them wonderful actors) sprinkled in the background here is a constant reminder of how much I liked Something in the Rain at the start and ended up hate-watching the second half.

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yes, the actors in "something in the rain" were all wonderful in the show but that drama really scarred me. i remember watching and wondering why i'm enduring this emotional torture with such beautiful aesthetics. i guess that's APS's charm - beautifully packaging emotionally multi-dimensional character plots for viewers to challenge their perspectives. emotions aren't bad, just oftentimes abused.

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So I would echo @hacja, he said it far more eloquently than me, but I was 100% on the teachers side, outside of physical violence. So I hope the discussion over it in the show is well thought out as well. The gauntlets have been thrown. As for Hye Jin's response to Jun Ho wanting to be a hagwon teacher, I saw it as her being upset her student didn't want better for himself. I didn't see the romance. I get it, I am a lawyer and discourage everyone from being one. I think we will eventually get to the romance, but not yet.

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Thanks for the recap @dramaddictally I had difficulty settling into the first two episodes of the drama and intentionally sandwiched it in between Dare to love and Crash which are both light and funny. The music reminded me of Simon and Garfunkel tracks and I was looking up the song lyrics to see if it was written for the drama as the words seemed to imply or if it was actually from that era. The music took me to the film The graduate which was about a married woman having an affair with a younger man. I didn’t like the music or the film at the time of watching and the association has clouded my engagement with this drama.

I think the fact that Junho has had a longstanding friendship with the son of Hyoim who is now his colleague and there was a competitive nature to the relationship to the point that Hyoim immediately thought about his parent’s reaction to his change of status is going to be an issue later on. The too chatty newbie who demonstrated an inferiority complex when chatting with others during the interview process is going to be questioning the interview process seeing Junho’s special treatment by staff in senior positions. I am calling that Junho’s mum seems to be showing signs of a potential life threatening condition; heart attack as a stress reaction or cancer diagnosis to be seen as dying wish to conform so mum can die happy. So school v academy, social status, conformity and the crisis of housing and job security for those under 40 are all themes this drama will explore. I will be hoping to stay for those elements of the story.

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I admit to a huge amount of bias towards this director's work--it just checks all my boxes, even when the script might occasionally let me down--and so I came into this drama primed to love it. So far, it hasn't disappointed me for a second. I love the pace, which is languorous and thoughtful, but never slow, and the way even the most mundane, everyday conversations feel elevated and important.

I can't speak too much yet about the chemistry of the leads, because the romance is very much in its beginning stages. Jun-ho clearly already has feelings that go beyond respect and affection for his former teacher, and there's a certain amount of flirtatious swagger there, but it's pretty subtle nonetheless. He's obviously motivated by a wide range of things about which we're only seeing hints. I know he boiled it all down to money, and that early conversation between the friends established that social class based on where you live and work is a constant concern/obsession, but I have a feeling there's a lot of different emotions and desires driving him to want to take this job at this point in his life. I find that WHJ has a very elegant presence and he's best at portraying guarded, somewhat aloof characters (see "Little Women" and "Worst of Evil") but I'm guessing that as his character evolves his portrayal will, too.

Jung Ryeo-won is an excellent actress, and her character is, in some ways, who I want to be when I grow up: emotionally controlled, able to project calm when her feelings are anything but, self-assured, competent, and kind. She also has a beautiful speaking voice! Seo Hye-jin as a character is a bit opaque at the moment; I'm not sure what drives her to do this job and why she was so opposed to working with Jun-ho. But that's what the rest of the drama will surely show.

I absolutely loved the two scenes between Hye-jin and the teacher she challenged. There was so much great writing and acting in those moments as the two went back and forth, first in the school and then in the restaurant. Hye-jin never openly loses her cool, but it's clear that the way that teacher characterizes her and her profession gets under her skin. I'm not sure I fully understood every moment of those scenes, but my take was that the teacher acted in part out of a real frustration with the state of the educational system as transactional, with academies selling test-taking skill as a product that overrides any real intellectual curiosity or respect for the learning process. At the same time, that teacher undeniably crossed a line when he was so confrontational towards Hye-jin, especially when he grabbed her shoulder and called her a parasite. Yet even when he was composed and careful in the restaurant, his warning about fighting a war against her was chilling. That said, because those scenes were well written, I found his position somewhat sympathetic, even if he's not a likeable character. It is a shame that students and parents must...

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constantly jockey over every single point on an exam as if their lives depend on it . . . because their lives *do* appear to depend on it. Of course, there are also all the underlying equity issues involving families who might not be able to afford to send their child to an academy or who need their child to work after school, cutting into their study time.

As I said elsewhere, I find it suffocating at times to watch these types of realities play out in kdramas, with parents putting horrible pressure on their children that those children then internalize into a kind of constant self-loathing when they (inevitably) fall short of perfection. As an educator myself, albeit one who faces a different set of problems related to students, I nonetheless feel these types of stories deeply and thus am tempted to avoid them. But even after only two episodes, I'm already sucked into the storytelling universe, and know that Ahn Pan-soek is likely to keep me there.

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@laurensophie As usual I appreciate your thoughtful comment. We both know the frequent failures of the U.S. system, especially when it comes to discriminating on the basis of class and race. Still, I'm struck by just how awful the Korean system is, all in the name of economic success. I think the system has produced great scientists and artists in spite of its structure oriented around high stakes testing, not because of it.

When I first started watching kdramas, I was struck both by the frequency with which the education system appears--even if its only to highlight dramatic bullying episodes or met in high school romances--but also by the almost uniform hostility in the portrayal of teachers. Even School 2013 and Black Dog, where the main protagonists are teachers sympathetically portrayed, the overwhelming impression is one of incompetence; most teachers are shown as petty martinets, or even worse, active villains. Few teachers are shown to have any sympathy at all with students.

In U.S. movies and t.v., of course bad and ridiculously authoritarian teachers abound, but there are also a fair share of inspirational teacher stories, where the protagonist is encouraged at key moments by a sympathetic teacher rather than physically beaten as is typical of kdramas.

Expecting to see the usual noona romance anxieties, compounded by teacher-student complications, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the degree to which these two episodes focused on motivations for and different approaches to teaching. But as I said in my comment I wonder if this would be of enough interest for it to continue to be a theme. I have a feeling not--that other romance tensions will supercede education as a topic which, lets face it, in the end will make for a more interesting show! But if continues the educational focus in a complex way as the romance develops I would love it.

I have to mention a tiny coincidence--as I was writing this comment, looking out the window, several very cute elementary students walked by headed to school, each one loaded down with what looked to be 50 pound backpacks. I hope they were filled with large lunches and not 12 textbooks!

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I love the recap @dramaddictally

What I love so far:

The educational set up
The struggle of the FL to do what's right vs doing it correctly
The obvious pride she takes in her work, but does not sweep the tough parts under the carpet
The realistic frames of scenes

What I do not:

Wi Ja Hoon: I loved him in RIABB. So was looking forward to see him as a lead. But as of now, he is missing the mark. Perhaps his name choice was wrong because now I can't stop thinking if only this was Lee Junho....

The unrealistic framing of scenes that would go against the characters' judgement as portrayed. A teacher continuously meeting her ex-student at night (even crossing a line and rightly called out for it); Her going to meet the teacher in a private room...his not facing any repercussion for being violent with her....

I do not like inconsistency in character portrayal, especially in a slice of life kind of melo.

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Yay! I was wondering when someone else was going to pick up on Lee Jun-Ho but I think it is too soon to count Wi Ja-Hoon out as I think that's a little unfair this early on however considering the dog's breakfast that was King the Land this would have been a much better choice for him and he has already worked with Jung Ryeo-Won before.

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dog's breakfast that was King the Land

 
This had me twittering...🤣🤣🤣
Sorry, it was too good to pass.

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Halfway through the first episode I was thinking with relief that I can drop this show. By the end of the second I'm looking forward to next week. Mark of good storytelling: I want to know what happens.

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This is the sort of K-drama I've been hoping to see for 8 months. A proper Korean show, not some Netflix product. I grew increasingly delighted as each supporting character appeared in turn. What a great cast. When I first started watching I thought 'The lead resembles Jung Ryeo-won', Then I realized 'Ach! It is!' and my delight grew. As long as the series doesn't end with anyone abruptly deciding to become a mortician I'll be happy.

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I'm not that in the educational background of this drama bcs korean system is so over the top and alien to my reality that it loses me along the way, BUT I do love both leading actors so I gave this a chance.

however, I feel like something is missing. I cant pinpoint what bcs I liked their chemistry, the conflict, even WHJ's acting. in theory, everything should be working for me, but there's something not there yet.

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Shallow comment: did anyone else notice the second male lead? I was trying to place where I saw him, and realized he was one of the NK comrades. 😆
Also shallow comment: I prefer him to the ML right now.

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The first episode of this show just stressed me out! The poor students getting frantic over 1 ambiguous question in a school test, the tension between the 2 teachers, the overall pressure on everyone because of that one exam, the rat race- oh it was a tough watch.

It just brought home the difficult road ahead for my son- he doesn't face these exams for a few years yet, but to see children here start prepping from grade 5 or 6 is just scary. The intense competition that grinds down the brightest child into a dull machine makes me question everybody's choices and why we're at this point. It all seems so futile to me at this stage in my life, but what choice do kids have if they have aptitude for a certain field, but that means utter slavery to books for the next many years!

Anyway, the characters per se haven't quite caught me yet. I'm still to understand their motivations so far. Why is she so reticent and discouraging, yet inexplicably excited for him to join? Why does he actually want to become a teacher at her hagwon?
But I found that was true for One Spring Night as well. That took a couple of eps to reel me in, but it later hooked me so well and good that its been my #1 Kdrama ever since.
Hoping this reaches somewhere near that standard for me.

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I really like "One Spring Night" (but not Something in the Rain). This one has a different writer, but they're all by the same director, and you can tell in the style. Not sure about the OST in this one either, to be honest.

I worked for six years at a big international school in Asia (but not SK), and had plenty of Korean students, so I can relate to a number of topics raised here around Hagwon culture, extreme expectations and pressure, and the differences in teacher-student relationships and expectations around boundaries. Where I'm working now (Australia) schools are extremely wary of any blurring of lines, a bit more so than in Korea it seems to me. More so today than 10 years ago as well. I'm making assumptions in the story line here, but a lot is implied by the show title, posters, synopsis etc so it's not outrageous to make some guesses.

Seems the age difference is meant to be about six or seven years - does that seem right? Right from the start he was trying to be flirty, but she was firm enough in drawing a line from what we saw so far. However, he's a very (socially) confident kid and grew into a charming young man, so after some time it's not so outrageous that two people of that age gap could grow fond... However... at what point, and to what extent is was there mutual awareness?

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I should have said teacher-student AND teacher-parent relationships. I remember a parent conference where a boy's younger sibling came along as translator for the parent, to ask why the older son was not earning an A yet. We had a different understanding of what grades are for, and what they're meant to express.

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