Cheer Up: A Review

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Adults can be dumb. That’s the key takeaway in this short and sweet series about high school and cheerleading, for me. It was a lot more satisfying than I thought it would be, and I’m immensely glad to have watched it. Plenty of frustrations to be had for sure, but the ending was satisfying enough. So here’s a few of my thoughts on the entire series.

[Just want to apologize for the lateness of this recap… been quite busy and it’s Thanksgiving weekend! But I hope to catch up on a lot of dramas very soon…]

The Love Triangle… and other love lines

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I honestly feel that watching the love triangle and friendship forming between Yeon Doo, Yeol, and Ha Joon is like watching the high school version of Falling In Love With Soon Jung (which, if you haven’t seen it would be a fun drama to watch). In Soon Jung, the three characters (minus Jung Kyung Ho) that are in a love triangle are friends since they’re really young, and while Jin Goo‘s character gets together with Kim So Yeon‘s character, his best friend played by Yoon Hyun Min has had a crush on Kim So Yeon for forever. (Let’s just skip over the fact that Jin Goo dies in the first episode and we move on to Jung Kyung Ho.)

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While it’s great to see that no friendships are broken up over a girl, it’s not like Ha Joon is taking himself out of the race for Yeon Doo’s heart. He’s still going to stick around, tease her to come to him, and continue to be really close friends with Yeol. I appreciate Yeol wanting to respect his best friend’s feelings while also not wanting to give up Yeon Doo, and that the two of them have a bromance to rival many other bromances.

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It’s quite predictable that Soo Ah ends up with Dong Jae, and I’m pleasantly surprised that by the end of the series she’s let go of her stress to entertain the idea of flirting with Dong Jae. While it’s obvious to pair them together, I also wasn’t quite sure how close they’d become because Soo Ah was a tightly wound spring. But I like that she gravitates towards him since he’s the one who’s seen her at her most vulnerable, and he was able to get over his phobia of hurting and touching people through her.

It’s cute seeing the other Baek Ho students gravitate to some of the Real King students, such as in the case of Tae Pyung (Shin Jae Ha) and Da Mi (Kang Min Ah). It’s as if they are seeing what would it have been like if they didn’t focus so much on studying and didn’t surround themselves with only the top 5% of the class. The lesson here is clearly that opening up one’s group leads to so many more interactions and friendships one never thought possible.

The Torture – or, All the Frustrating Moments in the Series

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I think I’ve given a lot of thought and ranting towards Soo Ah’s frustrating moments. I personally did not like her character, but it’s mainly because of the actress’ amazing delivery and the writer’s solid characterization of her. I loved to hate her, and it made her one of the more compelling characters in the series. Similarly her mother was such a twisted character that it was amazing Soo Ah emerged out of the years of horror somewhat okay in the end. It’s possible Soo Ah was always a good girl, but was just so suffocated and repressed by her mother that she knowingly made the wrong decisions. I was afraid that she never felt guilt for her actions, but by the end of the series I was quite happy to see she felt intense guilt for having nearly killed her fellow classmates. I disapproved of her “way out” from her problems, which was suicide, but I must admit I did want her to leave the main cast alone by transferring to another school or study abroad. (“Study abroad” becomes a weak excuse these days to send characters off, because it’s not like it’s that easy to send someone to another country and start school in a place they don’t know.)

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After Soo Ah redeems herself slightly, the drama turns to Ha Joon, whose parental abuse is visited in the beginning and then comes back in full force by the end of the series. I think I despise Ha Joon’s father more than Soo Ah’s mother because he’s actually a doctor and should not be abusing his child if he knows anything about being a doctor. At least with Soo Ah’s mother all she knows is money; it has corrupted her and her ability to raise a child properly. But Ha Joon’s father is a doctor. He’s supposed to be caring for people. The fact that he uses his position to influence the Education Office and hangs it over his son’s head as a mark of success is despicable. It makes me wonder if he’s actually a good doctor, or if his own parents just gave him this position and this hospital no matter what his abilities were. It was also just as maddening that his mother doesn’t do anything and Ha Joon doesn’t even go to her for comfort or understanding. The only time we see her (or at least, I think I see her) is when she goes golfing with the father. They presumably leave in the same car, and when the car stops because Ha Joon’s father has heard of his escape, she does nothing to stop him from hitting his son again! I don’t get what is wrong with her!

And on that note – I don’t understand what is up with parents who have too much money and power! In most Korean shows I’ve seen, most of them have ended up being manipulative or evil in some way, wielding money and status as some form of sword and shield. It’s more frustrating now to see it be taken out on just high school students.

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What’s nice is that Yeol’s father provides some sort of middle ground between the two extremes. He used to be the distant father who didn’t give his son enough love and affection growing up, which makes Yeol the kind of distant prankster that he is. But Yeol had a good head on his shoulders from the beginning because it’s not like his father pressured him to do well in school; he was able to make the right decisions without hurting others. And then his father is softened by Yeon Doo’s mother, thus proving that parents can change under the right influences. Unfortunately for Ha Joon and Soo Ah’s parents, that “influence” is going to be the police.

Another frustrating character is the principal, who somehow is not quite the “pal” you’d expect her to be towards her students. Principal Choi is quite selfish, doing anything for those who bribe her. But what’s telling is that eventually you realize that she is a weak-willed woman. Teacher Im points out that she is all bark and no bite (though she can throw things at him) because Principal Choi will do whatever it takes to preserve her position and please her overlords – whether it’s the rich parents or the Education Office. At the end of the day she really has no control over the teachers and the students. Even though it seems she plays with their fates, she can easily be manipulated to do what they want. They realize that they don’t fear her. They fear the parents instead. I was quite annoyed with her in the beginning because of her self-interested motivations. However she became a bit of a comical character because she became less of a threat and I knew that Yeol would find a way for him and his friends to weasel out of her plans.

But let’s get serious for a moment…

Is what’s happening in Sevit High School really what happens in Korea? I don’t think so. I think it’s definitely an exaggeration of what really happens. Nevertheless I do think the aspects of “spec stacking” is very true, and I will only hope that corruption among the parents and teachers is untrue.

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“Spec stacking” is something that I think happens anywhere in countries where it is highly competitive to enter an Ivy League or good university. I would not be surprised that people sign up for a bunch of clubs without really participating just to pad out their resumes. Of course, it is not a sure-fire way to get into school; as the consulting admissions officers pointed out to Soo Ah early in the series, she may look good on paper but she lacks the depth of being a well-rounded student because she really doesn’t do cheerleading in her cheerleading club. Because it’s totally fake. I think it’s strange how Sevit’s Baek Ho gets away with faking a cheerleading club and just studying all the time. Why not just be part of a studying club then? I do believe a lot of students in Korea do attend of those after-school programs where they just do more intensive, focused studying on English or particular subjects. I guess for Sevit, which is more like a boarding school, the clubs serve that function. But focused studying on a subject is one thing; appearing as a well-rounded student by participating in club activities or hobbies is another thing that makes you more likely to be a good candidate for universities.

As for the corruption, I’d like to think it doesn’t happen. Of course, I don’t live in Korea so I don’t know whether it does or doesn’t. It’s nice to see that the parents in this drama do fear the government and the Education Office at least, otherwise it would be demoralizing to see all of them in league with each other. The shows I watch tend to vilify the government or at least some members of the government, and in this show that doesn’t happen so much. Granted, Ha Joon’s father has some connections, but the Education Office and the media have been so ready to punish Sevit for any wrongdoing. And – the Education Office even sacked the principal. How about that!

There’s still the good stuff…

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This show didn’t make me completely frustrated. There were aspects to it that were still really fun. I loved Teacher Yang because it was played by Kim Ji Suk, and I loved that he and Coach Nam constantly plotted on how to get the kids to behave and also get out of trouble. Coach Nam ended up being someone to root for instead of being disgusted at, considering that she was hired by Soo Ah’s manipulative mother. Her ways in getting the Baek Ho kids to exercise were pretty hilarious since it was outright blackmail and these insanely smart students could not find a way to get out of it. Punishment points were a far worse punishment than anything else because it affected their grades. Which brings to mind this:

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First year-Hermione would totally have fit in with them.

There were also great bonding moments between the unlikely friends, especially when they all accidentally got drunk together or when Na Yeon and Jae Young realized that Soo Ah wasn’t as great as she seemed. Or whenever Kim Yeo Jin shared a scene with Jung Eun Ji – they were a pretty awesome mother-daughter pair.

I don’t want it to seem like there were more unhappy moments than happy, but the unhappy moments really drove the story forward. While it felt very burdensome to see Soo Ah’s schemes weigh heavily on everyone’s shoulders, at the same time it forced several characters to find their inner strengths and fight back. It gave the characters a chance to grow, so at least those schemes were not made up just for the sake of dramaaaaa or for the sake of just having obstacles. Even though we knew they’d be resolved quite quickly, characters were able to change from the experience and help each other.

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I do wish that there was more cheerleading in the show. I was hoping for something to the effect of Bring It On in terms of the level of their tricks. The Real King members were so impressive with their choreographed dances in the beginning, and I was hoping to see more of it flow into their choreography work. But at the end of the day the kids get to perform, so hurrah hurrah to being able to prove everyone wrong.

Verdict: A solid 6/10. I think it’s a very fun drama, and also quite short and sweet. Missable? Perhaps. But if you’re a Jung Eun Ji fan you shouldn’t miss it. Also, one really needs to keep an eye on this Lee Won Geun. This kid is gonna rock some waves in the future.

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