Let me preface this by saying that Itaewon Class (IC) is not your run-of-the-mill series and definitely not a faux cinderella story contrary to one’s claims. IC has high ratings, and for a good reason, it is gripping and compelling, to say the least.
You see, I personally tend to strictly apply a “litmus test” on the media I plan to consume. Say books, I test it by reading the first five pages, and I let it go if it doesn’t strike a chord. What’s so special about IC is that it reeled me in after the first few scenes, and look where it got me — it got me writing my first article on a series as my way of overcoming my equally first case of Post-Series Depression (PSD).
For those that haven’t seen it, the story revolves around how Park Saeroyi, a high school dropout, an ex-convict who is hell-bent on toppling Jangga, struggles to face a world where his principles are persistently challenged. The series features a feisty yet compelling underdog battle between his fledgling pub named DanBam and the famous restaurant group Jangga Co. Despite the odds, he never compromises his beliefs and companions while they strive to chase their dreams no matter how many restarts may come (cue Gaho’s Start Again OST).
Many of my friends agree that what made the series special was its depth and gripping narrative. It is simply an understatement to say I only have three reasons to offer. I’ll be sharing the three values that built that depth displayed by the characters and plot, which in return were also ingrained in me. The values of resolve, companionship, and money. SPOILERS AHEAD! Read at your own risk.
1. The Value of Resolve
If there is one word that could describe the protagonist Saeroyi it would be resolute. As cliche as never giving up on your dreams may sound, Saeroyi makes it seem feasible and pragmatic, albeit daunting and hard-pressed — it’s simply part of the process. Saeroyi’s resolve has manifested a lot of times during the series.
An example of this was when he stopped to glance up at the sky before approaching his jail cell. Saeroyi chose to acknowledge his situation and kept his calm, never bowing to the current circumstance. A saying by Charles Swindoll is, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you make of it.”
As cliche as never giving up on your dreams may sound, Saeroyi makes it seem feasible and pragmatic albeit daunting and hard-pressed— it’s simply part of the process.
Another powerful instance was his reunion after serving time with the antagonist, Jang Geun-Won. Geun-won, being the jerk he always was, provoked Saeyori on his seemingly unaccomplished life. Saeyori vehemently responded that despite his current situation, he is confident with his 15-year plan to overthrow Jangga, much to the horror of Geun-won. Jangga even went to the point of ousting Saeroyi and DanBam from their building — a building which took Saeroyi seven long years to finally rent.
It would seem that one’s proof of hard work was simply nothing to others born of privilege. Despite all these, he displayed a confident resolve, persistently believing in his goals. But Saeroyi is more cunning than what he puts off, he adapts and changes plans. You lose some battles but still in the hope of winning the war.
The protagonist has long acknowledged that nothing worth having comes easy. There will be times where you need to weather the blows, where your resolve gets tried and tested. Regardless of the circumstance, your resolution should remind you that it’s all part of the process. Have you ever felt this firmly on the plans you have for your life? Imagine having this firm resolve to achieve the goals you’ve set every start of the year.
Unfortunately, we tend to underestimate the power of goal setting and long-term planning. Often we’d instead settle on the pleasures from short-term decisions. The universe won’t conspire with you unless you will yourself to it.
Another thing I love about the series were the many Plan Bs. Saeroyi’s cunning was shown in his masterful use of alternative plans in case the situations do sour. Recall the following:
Did you get suspended for entertaining a minor? It’s okay; this is a good time to rebrand and rethink our strategy.
You got bullied since you don’t have any shareholding power? It’s okay; I’ll invest the rest of my money in their stock to catch their attention.
Your competitor plans to buy every building you will ever rent? It’s okay, I’ll buy my own tower!
Failing to plan is preparing to fail. One can only wish that the road ahead is without trenches. Your resolution can only carry you so far. If you are truly serious with that new endeavor, take everything you could possibly think of into consideration — create backup plans. This was an asset by the protagonist; he knows how to pick himself up after every setback he faces, gaining strength and even more determination in the process.
2. The Value of Companionship
If there is a surefire aspect that makes a series memorable, it’s character growth, a quality IC was able to pull off quite admirably. The internal dynamics between DanBam were equally intense as the external dynamics with Jangga. Saeroyi’s leadership style and sense were put to the test.
A pivotal scene for Hyun Yi (DanBam’s resident cook) was when she was confronted by the rest of the crew on her mediocre performance as a cook. Boss Saeyori decided to tender her two months’ worth of pay, initially thought to be her last check — but rather as commission for her to work harder, should she accept the challenge. Rather than laying her off the role as the cook, he used the situation to thrust in her responsibility.
This scene was hands-down the most defining scene for me. This is one of the moments that display the amount of trust Saeroyi has in his team or, as he calls it, his family. As he once called out to Yi Seo, should you fail to see the family in a business, you are bound to fail.
In addition, Yi Seo, despite being unagreeable with the decision, was assigned the role to taste test Hyun Yi’s food given her staunch feedback. Saeroyi was able to turn a potentially damaging situation to the advantage and growth of all involved parties. This was a testament to the famous quote, “the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.”
Often in the series, the characters were inexplicably honored to have Saeroyi as their boss, and for a good reason. Saeroyi accepted Geun-Soo despite being the son of the person he was hell-bent on destroying.
Hyun Yi as a transgender and Kim Tony as a colored man were never issues in DanBam. He would plainly ask them, “Do you enjoy working here? If yes, what’s the problem?” Seung-Kwoon was a person he openly accepted to give him a second chance in life.
At one point, Yi-Seo was even stripped off her badge one time due to her sociopathic tendencies in downplaying the team members, but that didn’t stop Saeroyi from building on their strengths and relationship as a family. They were all complete differently by the end of the series. Remember why Saeroyi believes he can accomplish things no matter what? “Because I have you guys.”
3. The Value of Money
The value of money has been a central theme of the series. It is so interesting to discuss the points revolving around this theme that I’ve reserved a separate article for it. We will be diving into a bit of Personal Finance 101 too. Check it our here.
Itaewon Class changed me for better
And that’s personally not the slightest bit of cliche. It’s not always that you get to connect with fiction on a different level, and when it does, do treasure it, for you have been part of that journey, that experience. Sucks it had to be finished.
Now that’s all for the three reasons why Itaewon Class changed me, and hopefully, you too, for the better. Who wouldn’t love a series that champions the value of Resolve, Companionship, and Money when used for the good of the people.
I can confidently say that I have a much better perspective in all three aspects after watching IC. Hands-down my all-time favorite series (especially Jo Yi-Seo, my love). If you have anything to share, write it down in the comments section below, and let’s talk about your favorite parts of the show!
See you in DanBam!
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