"The Queen's Classroom" is absolutely riveting. It has a magnetic emotional draw that is created by a combination of excellent writing, music, directing and acting. Especially the acting, which is essential in a character-driven drama. These kids are simply amazing. Most dramas rest on the shoulders of adults, but this one rests firmly on the shoulders of a classroom of twelve-year-olds. That's quite a task for such a young cast.
Their leader, Go Hyun-jung, brings frightening life to her well-written character, the mysterious and cruel Ma Yeo-jin. Ma is darkly clever and uses that to terrorize her students. When one student, Go Na-ri (Lee Young-yoo), takes courage and tells her school board mother about the things happening in the classroom, the kids take hope that their school situation will improve. Na-ri's mother gathers the other mothers and together they storm the school, ready to raise hell. They leave believing that Ma walks on water and support her teaching methods.
The kids are, in effect, left alone in Ma's classroom with no outside interference, which is exactly what Ma wanted.
Dong-goo from The Queen's Classroom Episode 2
One child, however, was already alone: funny man Oh Dong-goo (Chun Bo-geun). We learned last episode that he has a pretty lonely homelife. He also gets bullied by two older students who are quite brutal with their beatings and demands for money. They wait for him everyday after school to torture him - Teacher Ma watches the torture from afar.
Instead of stopping the bullies, Ma teaches Dong-goo how to handle them himself. Against someone more powerful than him, a person can only run away. If he can't, then he should surrender. If he has the courage, he can risk his life because "violence against the weak stems from cowardliness. You must attack that cowardice and risk your life".
Is this military training for a death mission or an elementary school seminar?
But when Dong-goo takes courage and faces his bullies, they are completely unnerved by his newfound courage; he called them cowards and dared them to beat him further. If they did, they knew they'd kill him. That is a terrifying thought. The bullies leave him.
Ma gave Dong-goo courage and for that, she earns his loyalty and admiration. That should be a good thing. But Ma doesn't see it that way. She sees it as weakness. To expunge the weakness from him, she decides to strip him down further. She humiliates him to the point of tears in front of his classmates by telling them his tragic story: his teenaged mother left him with his grandfather because she didn't like him. No one else does either.
Ha-na speaks up and declares that she likes him as a friend. Then she levels a challenging stare at her teacher. I wonder what Ma will say to that to further crush these childrens' spirits.
Teacher Ma Yeo-jin isn't a psychopath or a sadist. There are a few fleeting moments of empathy expressed by the twitch of a brow or a shaky sigh. But, those moments make her much scarier. She has decided to be cruel to teach her students what she believes is right: the world won't help you so you need to help yourself. While this is true to an extent, we are human for a reason. We bond and have empathy. We make friends and love.
The question is: why is she this way? What has the world done to Ma to make her so fatalistic? The directorial and writing decisions shroud her in mystery. We rarely get full body shots of Ma unless she's about to take someone down, be it child or parent. Most of the time we see her feet, or her arms, or her face. Bits and pieces of a woman turned into a monster.
The mothers' interviews took place in a dark room where only Ma's face was lit and the parents were spotlighted like criminals being interviewed. When Ma watches Dong-goo, we see her silhouette and the wind blows eerily. It's a secretive style of camera work that is in direct juxtaposition with how the students and other teachers are filmed: with lots of light and color. I love this kind of camera storytelling.
And, as a musician, I can't neglect to mention the fabulous score. It's fully orchestrated and uses original material rather than the karaoke versions of the OST songs.
But more than all of that, I really want to see what happens. I've been drawn into this world. I feel for these kids. I'm curious about this teacher. And I don't want to wait a whole week to watch episode 3.
Written by Raine from Raine's Dichotomy
Journalist, drama lover, and foodie, Lisa enjoys exploring Korea, speaking the language, and soaking in all that dramaland has to offer. Her Korean husband laughs that she knows more than he ever will about dramas and K-pop. Lisa Espinosa can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] The Queen's Classroom Episode 2"
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