Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 9 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 10 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 11 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 12 – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 13 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 14 – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 15 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 16 – | Review Score – 5/5
Filling the slot of JTBC’s previous Korean drama Chocolate, Itaewon Class is a revenge drama, backdropped by an intense rivalry between two companies. With several time jumps and plenty of drama across its 16 episodes, Itaewon Class is a well written, solid series that keeps up a consistent level of intrigue and pacing throughout its run time, bowing things out with a perfectly written ending that makes the journey well worth taking.
The story revolves around rebellious high school student Sae-Ro-Yi, who finds himself entangled in a blood feud with a bully named Geun-Won following the shocking death of his Father. Consumed by rage and subsequently thrown in prison, Sae-Ro-Yi finds himself antagonized by the Chairman of Jangga. What follows is a revenge-fueled redemption story that sees Sae-Ro-Yi team up with the eccentric Yi-Seo to open a pub in the bustling tourist area of Itaewon street and try to topple the Chairman and Jangga Co. and become the top restaurant company in Korea.
Of course, the plot is a lot more complicated than that, with various different characters engaged in their own angles – including Geun-Won’s brother Geun-Soo working for Sae-Ro-Yi at his pub DanBam and Sae-Ro-Yi’s childhood crush Soo-A working for the Chairman. All of these character-driven sub-plots work seamlessly with the main plot, interweaving with the revenge angle until the finale.
With several different time jumps, the final few episodes throw in a kidnapping angle that feels slightly superficial in the way it’s presented, but does a good enough job to keep things ticking across to the surprisingly well written and satisfying conclusion to this tale.
The story itself works really well, with multiple layers built up across its run-time and plenty of topical issues explored too. From racism and sexism through to the taboo subject of transgenders, Itaewon Class doesn’t shy away from a lot of the controversial topics and handles them with respect throughout. There’s never a moment where these feel contrived or forced, organically adding to the experience of the show.
Although Itaewon Class does take a while to settle into its groove, around episodes 5 and 6 JTBC’s drama starts to settle down and deliver a much more driven story. The revenge plot that consumes a lot of the middle portion of episodes is interesting, with DanBam rising up from obscurity to begin challenging the Chairman, who finally starts to take things seriously as we reach the third act of this tale. It’s around this point that the show starts to build up various peaks in the run-time that deliver some really well-written reveals and emotionally rewarding segments.
Stylistically, the series adds in a few different musical montages with all the usual Korean drama tropes you’d expect. Slow-motion shots, flashbacks and dramatic cliffhangers are all here but they’re used well in the context of the show. The soundtrack has some nice, catchy songs on there too and overall the show maintains a really colourful palette across its 16 episodes, reinforcing the neon-awash streets of Itaewon itself.
Overall then Itaewon Class is a very solid, well written Korean drama that’s both simple enough to follow and intricate enough to keep things interesting across the 16 episodes without ever feeling like it’s dragging things out unnecessarily. The ending ultimately makes this Korean drama one of the best entries on the calendar this year. With a satisfying conclusion for every character and all the big plot points resolved by the end, Itaewon Class is well worth a watch.
Verdict - 9/10