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White Christmas, Episodes 7 & 8

Are monsters born or made?

Finding an answer to that question has been Yo-han’s purpose since the first episode, and the show finally tackles it in earnest during these last two. Watching the kids begin to fracture under physical and emotional threats was a harrowing experience. Several of them came right up to the brink of the abyss in episode seven, only to pull back at the last moment.

The first time around, I was absolutely certain that Jae-kyu was going to kill Young-jae. After all, Young-jae had sold everyone else out to save himself, while Jae-kyu—the real letter-sender—had remained silent. Jae-kyu screaming that he wasn’t like Young-jae while beating the hell out of him was terrifying. Luckily, Jae-kyu caught sight of his bloody self and realized what, exactly, he had been about to do.

Moo-yul also had his brush with almost-murder. I love that he was tempted to leave Chi-hoon to die (and rush back to try to save everyone else) because Moo-yul constantly tried to do the right thing only for it to backfire on him the majority of the show or for him to be upstaged by Chi-hoon. And for a moment, Moo-yul thought about it. No one would ever know what really happened to Chi-hoon except for him. But Moo-yul still made the heroic choice to save him and was rewarded with finally being able to understand Chi-hoon’s significant looks.

If I had one regret besides the utterly incompetent police force about the final episode, it would be that we only had time for three therapy sessions with the parents. Still, the three were well-chosen, considering we had to sort out the final mysteries of Yoon-su’s background, finish Eun-sung’s character arc, and give Moo-yul the push he needed to take action in the finale. It still leaves me wondering about all the other kids and their parents—or were those three, plus Young-jae, the only ones who had parental issues?

I’m always a little sad about Jung-hye’s ending. While I get that this wasn’t really a show where the villains could get away with a happy ending, there’s something just…horribly sad about the way Jung-hye dies. (It is gorgeous, of course, with the sweeping in-universe operatic music, the striking colors, the blood on the dress, etc.) I can’t help but wonder if she would have been able to cope with her childhood trauma better if she hadn’t had the unfortunate luck of ending up with a serial killer as her psychologist. Is there another universe where she ends up under the care of someone that actually wants to help her? One that doesn’t think of her as a “born” monster? That would be nice.

The end of White Christmas is one of my favorite endings of any tv show. After spending so much of the show hating and distrusting each other, the kids finally unite in order to stop Yo-han because all the other adults are made of fail. I loved that Eun-sung got to have the grand speech on top of the roof that shook Yo-han to his core. It was a great way for her to reclaim control.

And yes, I love that they all lied about it afterward. I love that they’re going to get away with premeditated murder. Whether or not you agree with the drama’s decision that Yo-han won in the end, I’m excited by what this will mean for the kids in the future. Will they ever be able to trust adults again? Or the system that consistently failed them? Where do they go from this?

While the final episode has some significant weaknesses, many of which are made more apparent on repeated watches, I still adore the show. It was fun to spend yet another holiday season with White Christmas. Many thanks to everyone who joined in on the (re)watch! It was lot of fun to see what everyone produced.

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White Christmas, Episodes 5 & 6

Let the game begin! And by game, I mean real-life social experiment with potentially deadly consequences.

With Yo-han revealed as the serial killer and taking the students hostage, White Christmas has finally gotten to addressing its central premise head on: are monsters born, or are they made? And apparently the best way to do that is not to review decades’ worth of psychology research and debate on the nature vs nurture topic but instead to pit students against one another when failure means death. Gotta hand it to Yo-han: he’s really good at manipulating teenagers.

While the end of episode five is one of my absolute favorite scenes in this show, what really stood out to me this time around was Jo Young-jae’s character arc. The bully-is-actually-a-coward character trope isn’t particularly revolutionary (and Yoon-su spelled it out all the way back in episode four), but White Christmas makes Young-jae painfully, almost tragically aware of his revolting qualities.

The emotional (and physical) abuse he received from his mother can explain a lot of why the way he is—but it doesn’t absolve him of the many awful things he’s done to others, particularly Kang-mo.

Young-jae and Eun-sung have had several antagonistic conversations with one another, each of them disturbing in their own ways. The highlight this time around, of course, is after the drunken celebration, where Eun-sung asks what she has to do to make him lose interest in her, and Young-jae tells her to “fall apart” (or “become twisted,” depending on the translation). If she would just come off the pedestal he put her on, if she were to sink down to his level, if she were actually within reach, he wouldn’t be interested anymore.

So many people in this show are obsessed with Eun-sung (or who they think she is, or who she used to be). Jung-hye is the most recent addition, who thinks Eun-sung is “pure” and “white,” who is so pretty that she should have a flower name or something more unique. Jung-hye knows almost nothing about Eun-sung other than her appearance at this point, and yet she has already built a pedestal for her. It’s fascinating to watch Eun-sung accept, reject, reclaim, and subvert the roles that others have cast her in.

These two episodes are also the point at which I finally accepted Moo-yul’s Nice Job Breaking It, Hero qualities. He wants to be the hero, the martyr, so much, and yet his actions—especially the kind, thoughtful ones—tend to backfire on him in spectacular ways. He gives speeches on the importance of trust if they’re all going to survive, only to immediately start alienating Young-jae. He realized too late that Kang-mo couldn’t hear and that he told Jung-hye where Yo-han was. He couldn’t reach the gun in time.

Over and over and over again, Moo-yul tries to step into the hero role, and he consistently makes it worse. He’s always falling short somehow. Luckily for him, there are two episodes left for him to redeem himself.

 

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White Christmas, Episodes 3 & 4

One of the things I admire most about these two episodes is the way the endings raise the stakes astronomically. Episode three has the shortest turnaround times I think I’ve ever seen between the hanging and the firing of a Chekov’s Gun, which is notable considering just how long it will take for some of the other guns in this show to be used.

In fact, the scene where Eun-sung blows the whistle repeatedly is the point where I originally fell in love with White Christmas. I loved how it ripped into the quiet moment of Moo-yul walking through the hallway, how fear flooded his expression when he registered what was going on, how Jae-kyu and Chi-hoon and Young-jae and Yoon Su all came running when they heard it, even though they didn’t know precisely what was going on. Those shots from outside the school, watching the boys sprint through hallways and downstairs all while they’re narrating about adventures and devils and reality and danger, the relentless blasts of the whistle, the swelling music, the way Eun-sung points to the horror that has been hidden in plain sight all day—

Shivers, still, for that cinematic paradigm shift. I adore it.

The end of episode four is equally powerful in a different way. There is something awe- (and dread-)inspiring about Yo-han’s slow climb up that never-ending, barred stairwell as the students on the lower levels begin piecing together information just moments too late. And poor Chi-hoon, who had been making the swiftest, most accurate headway on the black letter mystery, doesn’t have any of crucial information that would have been crucial to stopping Yo-han before he could make a move.

Episodes three and four continued to build on the being-watched motif, and we were rewarded with more character backstory and insight. We got lots of proof that Moo-yul really does resent/hate Chi-hoon, saw that Eun-sung’s stalker problems of the previous year are still alive and well, and had a terrifying chase sequence where the hunters kept cheating thanks to the security cameras. (We also had a pretty funny sequence of people traipsing in and out to gawk and Mi-reu while he was locked up, which never fails to amuse me.) Plus, Jae-kyu got to spill his guts about feeling invisible and overlooked and unimportant, which all mirrored Kim Ji-su’s tragedy in the previous year, and Eun-sung distressingly enough was able to look at herself and draw some conclusions about who she is now and who she used to be. Several characters also got to stare at their hands in a “my-god-what-have-I-done” moment of self-reflection.

Whether or not they’ll actually learn from it is a question to be answered later.

JBL09decoy

White Christmas, Episodes 1 & 2

One of the things I like doing with every White Christmas rewatch is finding something new to focus on. I’ve been caught up in the nuances of Chi-hoon’s hands, the dramatic emphasis of a particular camera angle, the use of mirrors, framing of long-distance shots, specific character arcs, and other items. This time around, what caught my attention was how often the characters are just…watching each other.

From the stalker following Eun-sung the previous year to Kang-mo recording his classmates to Mi-reu spying via the security cameras to Moo-yul glaring at an oblivious Chi-hoon to Yo-han observing everyone, basically. Sometimes, even not!people get in on the watching action, too, like the deer in the courtyard, the Neptune(?) statue, and the Monster. There are 184 security cameras and ten people in this school, and there are so few places to go without prying eyes.

The oppressive nature of this lack of privacy has the unnerving effect of forcing ugly and uncomfortable truths out of people, whether that’s to other characters or the audience. Chi-hoon has overheard that Moo-yul hates him, and the audience understood Mi-reu’s confession of hatred toward Chi-hoon, too. Meanwhile, Yo-han is learning all kinds of things about Kang-mo and Jong-il’s personal philosophies and has confronted Young-jae on his different “faces.” And Jae-kyu always observes quietly, no matter who he is with. Being watched–or not being watched, as the case may be–was the decisive moment between Mi-reu and Yoon-su and created a huge schism between the two. Wanting to be both seen and ignored was also a big sticking point between Eun-sung and her failed romance with Moo-yul–a conversation which was observed and intruded upon by Chi-hoon.

And then there is the person who wrote the letter, of course, who has witnessed/named the main characters’ “sins” and cursed them for it.

JBL09decoy

2016 White Christmas (Re)Watch

a-black-letter-christmas

Are monsters born, or are they made? Susin High School, nicknamed “Prison High,” is an elite school attended by the best students in the country. Between the constant pressure to study and the school’s relative isolation, the students do little else other than prepare for the college entrance exams. The school has just one break every year—the eight days between Christmas and New Year’s—which normally leaves the school empty. This year, however, seven students and a supervising teacher stay behind over the break, joined by a psychiatrist who is forced to take shelter with them after a winter storm. When students figure out that they stayed behind because of the same anonymous letter, they realize that this may be more than just a dark joke.

Welcome to the 2016 White Christmas (Re)Watch, also known as “A Black Letter Christmas.” Want to participate in the second annual explosion of fandom squeeing? Don’t know what this show is but want to learn more? Read on!

Continue reading “2016 White Christmas (Re)Watch”

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5 Kdramas That I Need to Rewatch Soon

The nights are getting longer in my neck of the woods, and that always means it’s time to pull out the fuzzy blankets and hot chocolate–and maybe seriously consider marathoning a kdrama or two.  I haven’t properly marathoned anything in a while, but it’d be nice to sit back down with some old favorites and see just how well they hold up under fresh eyes. Time to dig up some snacks and settle in for a long weekend.

white-christmas#1 – White Christmas (Yes, this is a bit of a cheat since I’m already planning and organizing a rewatch of it over the Christmas holidays, but still.)

One of my all-time favorites, so much so that I nearly broke my own classification rules and put it on the full-length list. While the majority of the cast is (sometimes painfully) green, this is an intriguing psychological thriller that turns into the best/worst kind of can-and-mouse game. The cinematography and soundtrack are some of my favorite things about the show, as is the relentless focus on the show’s central question: are monsters born, or are they made? While a few final act plot holes prevent White Christmas from achieving perfection, this cult classic deserves eight hours of your time. I’d even go so far as to say it deserves a rewatch, because you’ll definitely pick up on new things the second time around.

Pair it with: Pancakes and despair. Continue reading “5 Kdramas That I Need to Rewatch Soon”

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5 Favorite Kdrama Thrillers

It’s October, and that means it’s time to pull out the scary characters or the disturbing ideas or the things that get your heart racing! I’m not one for gross-out horror when it comes to Halloween–I prefer to be made paranoid and/or terrified rather than disgusted. So here’s a list of my favorite kdrama thrillers, of both the psychological and the physical variety. Maybe I’ll pull one of these out now that the nights are getting longer…

white-christmas#1 – White Christmas

One of my all-time favorites, so much so that I nearly broke my own classification rules and put it on the full-length list. While the majority of the cast is (sometimes painfully) green, this is an intriguing psychological thriller that turns into the best/worst kind of can-and-mouse game. The cinematography and soundtrack are some of my favorite things about the show, as is the relentless focus on the show’s central question: are monsters born, or are they made? While a few final act plot holes prevent White Christmas from achieving perfection, this cult classic deserves eight hours of your time. (And yes, I will organize another re-watch this year.) Continue reading “5 Favorite Kdrama Thrillers”