Episode 1 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 9 – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 10 – | Review Score – 4/5
Extracurricular is a clever little Korean drama. It’s one that sets itself up to portray a simple high school drama but soon blossoms into something far deeper and darker than initially presented. Tackling some incredibly taboo topics and doing so with a dramatic and tense story that only becomes crazier the longer the show goes on for, Extracurricular is an excellent drama and despite its cliffhanger ending, well worth a watch.
The story itself revolves around Ji-Soo, a model student in the eyes of teachers and other students. He keeps his head down, has no friends and spends most of his days acing exams and staying invisible. Under this facade however is a darker side to Ji-Soo’s persona which is revealed in the first episode and continues to snowball as his tight-knit operation goes horribly wrong.
In order to pay for his tuition, Ji-Soo goes under the alias of “Uncle” and provides security for girls conducting compensated dating. Among those girls is fellow high school student Min-Hee and an incident involving her early on proves to be the catalyst for what follows further down the line.
As Ji-Soo finds himself torn between his love interest Gyuri and his own illegal operations, as the episodes tick by Ji-Soo starts to lose control and finds himself at the mercy of a rival gang. There’s a lot more to this story than that though, with Detective Lee starting to investigate Min-Hee and a lot of character drama that bubbles up through the episodes, crescendoing into a dramatic and tense couple of episodes to finish the first season. I won’t spoil the big plot points here but suffice to say the show does a great job building the story up to these dramatic spikes.
Tonally, Extracurricular is unlike other Korean dramas. There’s an abundance of swearing, lots of violence and bloodshed and some very taboo topics including sex trafficking, abuse and slavery. All of this is balanced out surprisingly well by light bites of humour that help to prevent this falling too far into the realm of melodrama.
While some may lament the way both of the lead characters – Ji-Soo and Gyuri – are difficult to warm to initially, as the episodes tick by the two grow and evolve over time to make for a much easier duo to get behind. They’re not perfect and have plenty of flaws and the teasing glimpses of romance we see dotted through the episodes remain just that – glimpses. This is very much a dark drama and each of the different characters we see have well written arcs right the way through the show.
Min-Hee really grows into one of the central characters toward the latter half of the series while the “puppet boss” Mr Lee has a surprisingly compelling arc that builds up to a dramatic penultimate episode where his character gets some really good closure. This attention to detail and ability to combine all these different characters into a simple but effective story is partly why this Korean drama works as well as it does.
The cliffhanger ending will be a big talking point no doubt, but there’s enough in this to suggest it will be renewed for a second season. The main conflict isn’t really resolved and almost every character ends with a question mark hanging over their well-being. While this in itself is a little frustrating, the journey to that point however is enjoyable and dramatic enough to make it worth recommending.
Overall though, Extracurricular is a surprisingly decent Korean drama and one that takes all the usual tropes and cliches you’d expect in a K-drama and throws them out the window, replacing them with something that’s a lot more common in Western series. This combination of West and East influences make Extracurricular one of those rare gems and while it won’t be for everyone, the show has a lot of positives that make it an excellent watch nonetheless.
Verdict - 8.5/10