Following hot on the heels of My Holo Love and Love Alarm, Netflix’s latest Korean drama binge gets off to a really good start. With some compelling themes, an intriguing narrative hook and a lot of potential to evolve from here, Extracurricular opens with a really good episode.
We begin episode 1 of Extracurricular with a man rummaging through a stack of batteries. Our shadowy protagonist dons a mask and tests his taser, ready for what lies ahead.
We then cut back in time to meet Ji-Soo, a student with a perfect record. With no demerits and a reputation for being an “obnoxiously good” student, Mr Cho tells him he’s too good and should get into a bit of trouble before heading off to college. Min-Hee and her boyfriend Ki-Tae discuss dreams the next day at school and it gets Ji-Soo thinking while he continues with his studies.
Running parallel to this storyline is a much darker segment, this one involving a man holding a young girl called Sung-Mi captive, bound and gagged. He chokes her out until she’s near unconscious and after cutting a lock of her hair, suddenly turns and cowers in fear as a man named Mr Lee appears and slaps him repeatedly in the face.
Communicating with Mr Lee via a scrambled phone is Ji-Soo himself who happens to be overseeing this operation and going by the alias of “Uncle”. Our perfect student isn’t quite so perfect after all. He demands the man pay up 2 million won for the locket of Sung-Mi’s hair being cut and although they manage to squeeze 323,000 won from him, it’s not enough for Ji-Soo to hit his target which is 90 million.
Mr Cho confronts Ji-Soo over him forging his parents’ signature, poking and prodding him before asking if he wants to join his club, titled the Problems of Society. He’s more interested in fellow student Gyuri though and Mr Cho senses this, deciding to make him Gyuri’s assistant.
Sungmi returns back to her apartment full of different women who all discuss her job and the travesty that occurred with her hair. Among them happens to be Min-Hee and they discuss “Uncle” and just who their big boss actually is given they’ve never seen him
Ji-Soo continues his studies after-school with Gyuri weighing in on her opinion of sex-work, unbeknownst to her exactly what Ji-Soo is actually doing on the side. When they ask for his opinion, he weighs in with a controversial stance on the matter but certainly one that’s pretty thoughtful too.
Torn between his shady business dealings and meeting up with Gyuri to continue his studies, Ji-Soo settles on shutting up shop, telling Mr Lee to get his phone fixed and focusing on his personal love life instead.
At the coffee shop he’s clumsy and a little charming, offering to pay but arriving with a ridiculous amount of money. Given it’s his first time at an establishment like this, he’s admittedly awkward and nervous. Eventually they talk about their lives and as Gyuri admires how badass he is for living alone, our protagonist sheds a tear given how nice she’s being.
Min-Hee gets into a spot of trouble while on the job and finds herself confronted by 3 men. While Ji-Soo tries to work out the best way of handling the situation, he excuses himself from Gyuri, leaving his actual phone behind which certainly causes her to raise some suspicions.
Ji-Soo scrambles off to help Min-Hee, buying batteries from the shop for his taser. This is where we link back up to that opening scene of the episode as we see “Uncle” rummaging through the batteries to find the right one that fits.
“Uncle” leaves a message for the thugs informing them that the police will be arriving shortly. The instructions to leave were actually intended for these thugs, not Min-Hee, in order to save her life. As they scramble out the door, they leave the scissors behind which allows her to free the restraints. It turns out the police have been called to a different number other than hers and it’s enough time for her to slip away.
With Min-Hee now free from harm, Ji-Soo returns to the coffee shop and finds Gyuri gone, instead prompting him to pick up his bag and leave.
As the episode closes out, an unimpressed Mr Lee finds the shady man trying to upload images of Min-Hee in an internet cafe, prompting him to rush outside. Meanwhile, Ji-Soo falls asleep at his desk in school as Gyuri arrives and sees 2 phones, one of which blinking with an incoming text message, which is where the episode closes out.
With some good characterisation and some nice foundations set for the season ahead, Extracurricular gets off to a promising start here. The nice bit of editing to tie the opening scene with one later on is an effective strategy to hook you in and the dynamic between Gyuri and Ji-Soo looks set to really take this Korean drama by the horns.
There’s some pretty dark and serious topics discussed here too, especially regarding sex work and the dangers involved with this but it’s balanced surprisingly well with the touching moments of humour. So far so good though, and quite what happens next remains to be seen.