Itaewon Class, the 2020 K-drama aired in Korea by JTBC and streamed around the world on Netflix has captivated audiences with its compelling story of an ex-convict who tries his luck in the restaurant business while vowing to take revenge on the death of his father.
Originally based on a webtoon of the same name, Itaewon Class won the Best Drama Series category at the 25th Asian Television Awards in 2020. The series was well-received not just in Asia but around the world, making it to many “must-see” lists of K-dramas, including one published by Forbes in December.
Working behind the camera and bringing to life the colourful characters that revolve around the fictional DanBam restaurant is Itaewon Class Director Kim Sung-Yoon. He shared with Television Asia Plus that the power of the original work comes from the characters, in terms of casting and directing to bring out the bigger picture.
According to the director, the characters of Itaewon Class represent a message to the younger generation. Park Seo-ri (Park Seo Joon), has a strong conviction and passion for his goal, as well as leadership and trust. The people surrounding Seo-ri, who himself was an ex-convict, represent the various minorities in society. There’s the social media influencer and sociopath Yi-Seo (Kim Da-Mi), Seo-ri’s former cellmate and gangster-turned-colleague Seung-Kwon (Ryu Kyung-Soo), and DanBam cook and transgender Hyeon-Yi (Lee Joo-Young). “The interesting thing I think is that they are all covering up for each other and they grow together,” Sung-Yoon said.
K-drama’s pop-cultural impact
With streaming viewership in Asia and around the world showing no signs of slowing, people now have access to diverse content from different backgrounds and cultures. Sung-Yoon said that the world has noticed the high quality of storytelling from K-dramas and the subjects that they touch on. In Sung-Yoon’s opinion, “The strong point of K-drama is that it has a kind of empathy through deep touches of universal emotion. It resonates with viewers from all over the world.”
Having worked with Idol-status Korean superstars like Seo-Joon, the Itaewon Class Director had nothing but praise for the actor who made Park Seo-ri come alive. Sung-Yoon said, “He’s very good at performance acting. It was interesting working with him because, in Korean drama, he’s specialized in the romance genre. But Itaewon Class is not a romance story. He worked really well and played the part really well.”
Sung-Yoon is currently working on the Netflix Original series The Sound of Magic which is due for a Spring 2022 release. The director, who got his start with The Great Merchant in 2010 said that aspiring filmmakers should have a strong passion and the perspective of finding interesting stories.
Watch out for more interviews with past Asian Television Awards winners with our coverage of the Asian Television Awards Alumni Spotlight.