Seven years too late… I can’t believe I did not watch this drama for so many years despite having been exposed to the glory that is Sung Joon for so long. White Christmas was my Lord of the Flies nightmare manifested in a television show, with a change of setting as well as the ages of our youths.
Set in Susin High School, a boarding school where the top 0.1% of the smartest minds of South Korea study, it narrates the story of seven boys and one girl who stay back on Christmas because of a death threat all of them receive. The school is known for giving no holidays to its students other than the eight days around Christmas. On top of all of that, the school is situated in a secluded area on top a mountain, away from any human contact, giving it the impression of a concentration camp or detention center, with windows everywhere, so nobody can hide. The interior of this campus is lots of staircases, which makes it look like a labyrinth, with surveillance cameras everywhere, and way too many prohibited areas for the students.
All the actors in this drama, were rookies back when they starred in this, which makes their acting all the more imperfect, adding to the general feel of this story about loss of innocence. By showing them at an age older than Ralph, Jack and Piggy, from Lord of the Flies, we are given the opportunity to see how the former would have evolved as individuals if they had remained in society a little longer, developing their own personalities. Let me go on to introduce our cast:
Park Moo Yul (played by Baek Sung Hyun) can draw most comparison with Ralph from Lord of the Flies, with his conscious effort to remain good and ‘civilized’ despite the ordeals he is put through where he has to choose between his own conscience and free will. It is possibly his inherent goodness that overpowers any ill thoughts he may have about his peers from school, and yet we can see how he consciously puts in effort to remain good, even when presented with plenty of opportunities to become the monster that he attempts to stifle.
Jo Young Jae (played by Kim Young Kwang) is the impulsive one of the lot who loses his sense of right and wrong at certain moments in time. Only to later realize that he has made a mistake, Young Jae showed great potential in awakening his monster with his occasionally bloodthirsty behaviour. Furthermore, he seemed to have gotten into the bad books of most of the group, referred to as 조영병 (joyeongbyeong or the ‘quiet illness’, in other words the plague). He did give a lot of Jack vibes, but it was his ability to understand his actions, even if in retrospect and the fact that he would be ridden with guilt after making a mistake that made him a better and more human version of Jack. He made Golding’s black and white Jack, much grayer, and hence much more alive.
Yoon Soo (played by Lee Soo Hyuk) was the sincerest manifestation of Simon imaginable. The fact that he consumed drugs, and was often seen in a tripped out state, seemed to emphasize a deeper spiritual connection, possibly with a greater entity. Added to that was his constant mental absence from his surroundings hinting at a metaphysical higher understanding of matters. Most scenes involving him had musical instruments and his headphones; music being an important part of the Christian faith, from the recital of hymns to ‘I heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord’. Yoon Soo was almost always found daydreaming, and listening to music on the rafters near the ceiling of the campus, also attempting to establish the same ecclesiastical connotation. This fact also was held in common with Simon, who would escape up the hilltop for his own spiritual journeys, while he would get lost in the sound of the pigs running in ‘staccato’. Lastly, was the fact that Yoon Soo saw things, which on one level are seen as revelations, while on another can be interpreted as hallucinatory in nature.
Yang Kang Mo (played by Kwak Jung Wook) shared some aspects in common with Piggy, starting from their mutual ‘disability’. While the latter had bad eyesight, and needed a visual aid, the former had a hearing disability and required a hearing aid. In a plot involving issues ranging from bullying to kidnapping, hearing is essential, which made the introduction of such a character more exciting. Kang Mo was almost always seen with his video camera, taking pictures and shooting videos in real time, making him even more similar to Piggy since both exuded a great curiosity to know the world around them. We were also exposed to how the weaknesses and complexes of such a person come into active play when faced with great adversity. In certain aspects, the way Kang Mo was treated due to his disability by his peers inculcated a serious inferiority complex that defined his every action in the show. We did not get a great montage of flashbacks showing their exact treatment of Kang Mo, and yet every emotion was delivered through his own narration. It was this that spurred everyone to hastily turn him into the scapegoat, and it didn’t go to his credit that he would often behave in a suspicious manner. For the longest time I actually thought he had it in him to turn his back on everyone…
Lee Jae Kyu (played by Hong Jong Hyun) was a character who was explained the least and yet, he was possibly the most important piece in the chess game that we saw underway in the show. Without delving into the importance of Jae Kyu’s character, all I have to say is that he showed some serious Roger tendencies; the sleeping monster. With as much potential to cause violence as Jack, and a weaker moral compass, Jae Kyu bore the appearance of an ideal student, responsible and respectful, while hiding all of his violent tendencies under his calm and gentle veneer.
Yoon Eun Song (played by Esom) was the only female among this huge group of boys, bearing her own burdens. The romantic interest of at least two of the boys, she was also a muse for the others, but while she bore an attractiveness for the boys on the surface, she suffered from serious depression to the extent of being suicidal. Her demons were of her own making but had potential to destroy her life forever, especially when she was surrounded by so many men who admired her. Her choice to behave rudely and coldly towards them, showed her will to live with some ounce of humility and understanding of her own complexes.
Kang Mi Reu (Kim Woo Bin, credited with his real name, Kim Hyun Joong, in the show) was THE bad boy in the show, referred to as 미친미르 (‘michin mireu’ or Crazy Mireu), he was given the best introduction among any of the other characters. As Back to Black by AC/DC played in the background, we saw a boy with flaming red hair make his entrance amidst posters of Guns N Roses and other rock bands. Mi Reu was the greatest dichotomy the show had to offer. While I had pointed him out as Jack very early on, the show made me think twice, no thrice about what Mi Reu was. He loved having attention directed at him, since his true strength, his intellectual capability had been stolen by somebody else. He redirected all of his energy towards being as adventurous and troublesome as possible. His love for rock music probably added to the youthful rebelliousness that he represented. It is this attitude which is inherently innocent but has most often been misconstrued by adults as behaviour that is out of line and uncivilized.
Choi Ji Hoon (played by Sung Joon), Piggy in his truest grown-up form; this character represented the true naturally endowed intellectually superior human. I guess they are always 1 in every 8 in the real world too. Ji Hoon, was the only one we see who was least interested in the private rivalries of all of the other students, as he always concentrated on solving the problem, with a clear head. He blamed it on a defect in his brain that did not allow him to feel emotions, but helped him excel academically. Even though he did not waste time on rivalries, Moo Yul and Mi Reu had a serious rivalry with him since he had reduced them to second and third position in comparison to their previous records. It was this capability that made him the easiest target among the boys, because his intellect was detrimental to subduing the students into submission.
Coming to the direction of the show, this was a piece of art. Postmodern in its feel, the show survived on only one set for at least 95% of the show, making the audience feel as claustrophobic as the characters. This made the scenes visually jarring and monotonous at some points, since there was limited background movement. This fact, though, helped establish the prison-like feeling. The snowstorms and barren mountains did not help much in relaxing the audience since they were even greater signals of coldness of growing up and frozen adult life. All of this was highly frustrating and overwhelming at certain points, because all the tension, angst and anger were palpable by the audience. The only release I felt in the show was possibly the music they had incorporated, which was at par with, and in fact, better than Soulmate. I feel like I should put up a list of all of the songs used in the drama because I haven’t come across the list anywhere else online. I will conclude my post with that, but before that I must state that White Christmas is a show every Literature student MUST watch.
- Back in Black by AC/DC
- Wake Up by Arcade Fire
- Medication by Primal Scream
- Teardrop by Massive Attack
- You Who Do You Hate by Mansun
- Again by Alice in Chains
- Angry Chair by Alice in Chains
- Lounge Fly by Stone Temple Pilots
- Beautiful Ones by Suede
- Venus in Furs by The Velvet Underground
- Holes by Mercury Rev
- Battleflag by Lo Fidelity Allstars