Sunday, July 15, 2012

Drama Review: White Christmas (2011)

Are monsters born or are they made? This is the main question in the mystery drama White Christmas. The drama isn't a regular drama per se, as it is only 8 episodes long (whereas a regular mini series is at least 16 episodes). If you like mystery type genres filled with psychological twists and turns, this drama is for you.

The story is set in Sushin High School, a super-elite private school specially for Korea's top 1% students. Known as Prison School or Alcatraz, the school only allows 8 days of holiday around the time of Christmas. Although this is the only the only time in the year where the students can actually escape the school that is literally in the middle of the mountain, there's always students who stays behind with one reason or another. Park Moo-yul (Baek Sung-hyun) decided to stay because he received a black letter of hatred. Turns out he's not the only one left in the school, as there are 7 other students with him. It will be a holiday none of them could ever forget.

I started watching this series because it was on Dramabeans and the raves it's getting from the commenters. I remembered glimpsing it on KBS World a long while back but seeing it's darker, creepier vibe, I decided to forgo (also because it was like 10 at night and I'm alone at home). But after watching it, I have to say this is one hell of a drama. I mean I finished it in one go, which is never done before because I tend to get bored watching dramas. Even one hour can be grueling sometimes. But surprisingly not this one.

This is definitely a different genre for me to watch. I do watch psychological movies sometimes but only when I want to. Psychological thrillers are almost completely a no-no for me as they are super creepy and I'm a scaredy cat like that. Alas, this drama isn't really that creepy. There is definitely a spook factor sprinkled throughout but it's not important and not that creepy after you go through the initial shock. The biggest issue in this drama is definitely the psychological battle that is going through the students' minds. It keeps you guessing where this drama is trying to take you, and little by little we learn to solve the questions that were asked.

Because this is a psychological drama, I do have to say that there are moments where my prior knowledge of academic psychology hinders in the enjoyment of this drama. I guess that happens a lot when it comes to psychological films. This drama isn't really that horrible as some of the ones I've seen in the past. It wasn't skewed Freudian or anything like that (which will make me an unhappy camper). But there are moments in there that make me shake my head. Like the psychologist's unethical method of therapy. If he was practicing that in a real clinic, a lot of people will be mad.

One of the important factors of why this drama worked is the details they've put in in every aspect of the work. From the cinematography, to outfits, and the setting, even the height of the actors just makes everything tie in together into this one perfect little bundle of goodness. The story could carry itself to a solid finish, but that attention to detail just makes everything more worthwhile. One of my favorite scenes was in the final episode where all the students had to give testimony to the police and the students were "rolled" (it looked like they were using a conveyor belt) as they were giving their individual testimony. It wasn't genius but it was an awesome moment for me as a viewer. Perhaps because it was at the very end thus giving a stronger impression, it was definitely a favorite.

Talking about the story, I love the pacing of this. It's quick enough that someone who gets terribly bored fast can enjoy but also slow enough that every new information that's been given gets across to the viewers. It's storytelling at its best and I really appreciate it.

Of course when talking about a drama, we can't forget the actors. I'm guilty of picking works based on the cast alone, often times meeting horrible results. For this drama, I was pretty psyched with the casting of Baek Sung-hyun, whose Big character Gil Choong-sik is my favorite, and Sung Joon, who was awesome in Shut Up! Flower Boy Band. Baek was definitely the shining star of the show for me. It's no surprise, as he is the most experienced amongst the young green cast, which became an initial worry for me. During the beginning of the drama, I was worried the less than stellar acting would throw off the tight plot. But later I'd find out that they acted just fine. Really well in fact. I see very bright acting futures for these young actors. The only well established actor in the cast is Kim Sang-kyung who plays the psychologist. He was great, couldn't deny it. He also let the young actors shine which I think only experienced actors can do. And did he know how to do it.

I'm thoroughly happy I watched this drama. I wouldn't categorize it as one of my ultimate favorite dramas, but it's up there on the list. Great plot, surprisingly good acting, beautiful cinematography, perfect set. I love how the story keeps us guessing and strays from treating the viewer like a child, which a lot of dramas do by the way. It's also a shorter length than your everyday drama, which is a plus for me (maybe not for others). You can finish it in a day. Isn't that the dream?

Final Verdict: 9/10

Image source: Hancinema

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