Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3.5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 2.5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3.5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 3.5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 3.8
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 4
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 3.8
An 8-episode JTCB series shown on Viki, Live On focuses on the trials of a high school student who’s cyber-bullied by an unknown perpetrator.
To flush out the culprit, Baek Ho-Rang, played by the seasoned Jung Da-Bin, joins the broadcast club. Team leader, Go Eun-Taek, played by NU’EST’s Hwang Min-Hyun (Minhyun) is suspicious of her motives but he and other club members eventually help unwind the mystery.
Joined by a host of other students, played by mainly familiar young actors (Noh Jong-Hyun, Yan Hye-Ji, Yeonwoo, and Victon’s Choi Byung-Chan to name a few) the story jumps straight into the spectacle then back-tracks to follow clues.
The narrative has potential with an intriguing hook and dramatic disclosure but is ultimately let down by a dearth of chemistry and reveals that stylistically feel repetitive. The characters establish themselves individually but overall, Live On lacks cohesion.
Stay with me for a moment and think about high school dramas like Dawson’s Creek (Netflix) – those personalities effervesced, making for captivating viewing. In episode reviews, I’ve noted several K-dramas of the same genre that displayed a lot more punch, like The Heirs/Inheritors, School 2013, Reply 1988, Dream High. They had similar themes such as bullying, family, school, friends and romances. But such a different feel.
The romance between the main leads have sweet moments but there’s just not a lot of depth. They follow the same cliched romantic gestures as every other similar drama, but fail to make these anticipated moments sing – they were just too manufactured – with heightened music, freeze-frames, soft-focus lighting and coloured bubbles. Instead of sweet, they just come across as cheesy.
I’m not saying the first time your hand brushes against you’re crush’s isn’t poignant – especially when you’re in school. It’s giddy and special. But the over-emphasis makes it cringe-worthy – like an adult’s patronizing interpretation of a youth’s experience – rather than the simple delight. Even long-time couple Woo-Jae and Jae-Yi don’t have an opportunity to get comfortable with each other after 1000 days of arguments.
The bullying theme, while heavily used in school-aged dramas, doesn’t compare to the much more realistic Chinese movie Girl’s Revenge (Netflix), for example. It’s way too TV-land: ‘parents, this is what your children face at school.’ And whilst the social media piece has some impact and feels reasonable (if dramatized for effect), it isn’t enough to carry the story and starts to feel a bit boring, with kids just texting the same old bitchy notes.
At one point in the whodunit, I’d hoped for a peek at some Veronica Mars-style sleuthing (another stellar high school drama) but it never gets close, instead zipping back to seconds of open-mouthed stares.
Writer Bang Yoo-Jung has written scripts for sweet bestie web drama Just One Bite among others. And Kim Sang-Woo has directed several successful series including the fabulous My Mister (Netflix) and interesting school fantasy Extraordinary You (Viki), so I’m surprised at the way Live On landed. Was it a side project?
It may have worked better if the installments were cut by 15-30 mins, forcing a tighter, less over-worked account. If you’re also watching Netflix K-drama A Love So Beautiful, even with a very simple story-line, it’s so much more compelling, proving a sweet idea, told through its characters rather than dramatic plot points, is quite watchable.
There were things I liked about this drama, like its relevant concept for today’s connected world. The focus on the broadcast team provides a tool to ‘lead’ the news. The use of technology and social media is nicely situated to ramp toward a big reveal too.
The production value is similarly great too, with setting, scenery, lighting and even music all fitting nicely together, although maybe a little too nicely. And the snappy closing song ‘Your Light’ by TXT is a winner.
Arcs are strong though, which is so key to an impactful story, once you’ve bought into the personas. All the key players except for one learn and adjust. And the one that doesn’t, isn’t given more than one dimension from the start, unfortunately. I refer to Yoo-Sin of course. The others evolve – Eun-Taek learns to let go; Ho-Rang to trust; Jae-Yi to control her anger; Woo-Jae to talk rather than retreat and So-Hyun to give herself a chance.
And let’s talk about the K-pop factor. As a vehicle to snag a view of your favourite idols in action, that hits the mark, as both Hwang Min-Hyun (NU’EST) and Choi Byung-Chan (Victon) have decent screen time. If you aren’t familiar with either of their groups, or that of Choi Yeonjun of TXT (episode 8 cameo), will you check them out as a result? I certainly did. Would you run to see them in something else? Maybe… if only to see different roles.
So, what’s the biggest problem with Live On? Well, it feels a bit over-manufactured without letting the professionals get a chance to act – to become their roles. It’s almost as if they were paying more attention to standing on a specific ‘x’ than transforming, creating siloed performances.
If the focus on this piece was a high school slice of life, the slice doesn’t feel very real. For the most part, each high-schooler looks beautifully plastic.
Live On does have a meaningful story to tell. Technically it’s fine but emotionally it just doesn’t click. There’s too much plot and not enough actor. Ultimately, it doesn’t live up to the hype.
*Was Live On a must-see for you? Let us know your thoughts below.