I finally finished a long delayed drama and it only proved to be a walk down memory lane in terms of my time spent watching dramas. Music was the main thing that played a massive part in making me interested in Korean culture, particularly dramas. To think that what started as just an interest in Korean entertainment, would culminate into me finally going to Korea to pursue my dreams, remains something that I cannot wrap my head around, just like the protagonists of our story.
Dream High is the story of six teenagers enrolled at Kirin Arts High School with aspirations to debut as singers and musicians. Go Hye Mi (played by Bae Suzy) was originally training to be an opera singer, but when her father runs away from home to escape loan sharks, she has no place to go to with her baby sister. Her father instructs her on the phone to run away from home with her sister and seek refuge in a music teacher’s house who she knows as the man who had an affair with her mother. Reluctantly, Hye Mi does as she is told and also stops taking vocal lessons at this point. The music teacher, Kang Oh Hyuk (played by Uhm Ki Joon) works at Kirin Arts High School. Stalked by loan sharks, Hye Mi is instructed to pay off her father’s loans by enrolling at Kirin and becoming an idol. Since she has no choice, she participates in the auditions with her friend, Yoon Baek Hee (played by Ham Eun Jung), except while Baek Hee passes, Hye Mi does not. After raising a fuss in front of the judges, Hye Mi and Baek Hee end up becoming enemies since Hye Mi in her fit of rage, criticizes Baek Hee to the extent of reducing her to absolutely nothing. Their animosity towards each other plays a key role in the progress of the story.
Song Sam Dong (played by Kim Soo Hyun) is living in the countryside. He doesn’t go to school and only stays home doing absolutely nothing. One of the judges at the Kirin auditions is keen to have him enroll at the school and instructs Oh Hyuk to go and fetch him from the countryside. However, it is Hye Mi who ends up going to Sam Dong. By convincing him that she loves him, she is able to lure him into stepping into the world of music and dance. Sam Dong is smitten by Hye Mi and he credits all of his successes and losses to her wish to have him succeed in life. Hyun Shi Hyuk (played by Ok Taec Yeon) is an illegitimate son of a famous politician who does not intend to live under his father’s shadow. In an attempt to define himself, he lives under the false name of Jin Guk in a very small goshiwon apartment with a friend.While helping another friend audition at Kirin, he ends up enrolling as well. His lifelong encounters with Hye Mi reveal how he has admired her since a long time ago. He can see right through all of her fusses and her bouts of anger. The sincerity under her cold exterior is not lost on him and he always pushes her to show her best in terms of her personality and also as a singer.
I finally understood where the famous ‘is it my turn already?’ came from. Jason (played by Jang Woo Young) is a talented dancer and singer and one whose dance is the real reason Shi Hyuk joins the school. Even though he was playing an American-Korean, Woo Young’s Korean pronunciation showed up in much of his English dialogues though he tried his best to sound as American as possible. His love interest, Kim Pil Suk (played by IU) starts off as an overweight girl with a beautiful voice. Her embarassment at her own appearance is the reason that she wore a sushi costume to her first audition. Blessed with a vocal talent called, ‘perfect pitch’, Pil Suk confesses her love for Jason with Jason telling her that she will only get his reply once she loses weight. He cheers for her every step of the way, but he also wishes to see her debut instead of providing background vocals for commercials because her weight holds her back. The two provided the very desperately needed romance in the drama. Their entire process of falling in love was definitely a lot of fun to watch and they both sing so beautifully, showing both romantic and vocal chemistry that was a treat to listen to. I honestly could have an entire drama based on their own love story.
Dream High reminded me a whole lot of my first Korean drama, Heartstrings. However, in retrospect, I feel Heartstrings had minor loopholes which Dream High worked very hard to cover. The rivalry between Hye Mi and Baek Hee was far more cruel here since there were attempts on life along with cheating and plagiarism. Issues related to a singer and musician’s health, ranging from those involving appearance to those that could affect skill were explored in depth. Public image played a central role, similar to real life idols. However, since there was a lot of JYP cast, particularly two members of 2PM, it really begs the question about whether this was an attempt at image building after the 2PM leader, Jay Park, had to unceremoniously leave the group in 2009. On the other hand, this could simply have been a wish to show how a lot of drama around idol life is not what their agencies want for them. The drama did not even shy away from questioning the idol industry and how it preys upon young girls who want careers in the industry, and powerful men who can make or break the lives of these boys and girls by a single action. The way I have followed the progress of the idol industry in Korea, I only see that lessons that could have been learned, weren’t causing the loss of so much talented life within the industry.