The Quarantine Stream: 'Extracurricular' Is A Dark And Hyperviolent 'Risky Business' For The Rideshare Era

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they've been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)The Show: ExtracurricularWhere You Can Stream It: NetflixThe Pitch: A poor but intelligent high school student (Kim Dong-hee from Itaewon Class) creates an app for prostitution services to try to escape his dead-end life. But when he's caught by a fellow classmate (Park Joo-hyun) who blackmails him into making her a partner, things quickly get out of hand, and the pair of them find themselves caught in a web involving local gangs and a police investigation.Why It's Essential Quarantine Viewing: If Risky Business dropped its '80s comedy antics and became a gritty crime drama that actually leaned into the consequences of teen prostitution — with a healthy heaping of Korean cinema ultraviolence — you'd get Extracurricular. It's hard for a lot of people to get into K-dramas, but Extracurricular is the best gateway series for those who have a liking for dark, hyperviolent Korean cinema that I've seen by far. It's electric and current, with a dash of the social conscience that turned Parasite into the most relevant film of last year.

Gritty and unflinching, Extracurricular is a step apart from most other K-dramas you'll find on Netflix. Since they've become a global phenomenon in the past few years, K-dramas have dramatically improved their production values and writing, but they are still heavily indebted to their cheap, soapy predecessors and feel worlds away from the tonally sharp, comically violent Korean cinema that is so beloved on the world stage.

But Extracurricular, with its taut suspense and dark, offbeat humor, feels like the bridge between those two worlds. Maybe because it's a lean 10 episodes, each under 50 minutes each. Maybe it's because its brisk pacing and unsympathetic characters clearly takes its cues from U.S. television, rather than the lengthy K-drama format, for which episodes can stretch into the hour and a half mark. Maybe because its premise — of a genius-level high school student Oh Ji-soo (an amazingly mousy and pitiful Kim Dong-hee, nearly unrecognizable from his sleek appearance in Itaweon Class) who runs an online prostitution ring with the help of his mysterious muscle Mr. Lee (the series breakout Choi Min-soo, embodying the perfect brawny stoic) — delves into much grittier and seedier territory than any other K-drama dares to. Because of the troubling subject matter, each episode is even accompanied by a warning message that offers a number to call for those seeking help.

But most of all, its the heightened tone of Extracurricular, which recalls the hyperviolent films of Park Chan-wook (there's even a hallway fight scene toward the end of the series that will scratch that Oldboy itch) and other Korean cinema maestros. The students of the high school that Oh Ji-soo attends are so cruel, the police are so corrupt, and the psychotic gangsters are so ridiculous that Extracurricular feels like it will bust out a gratuitous bloodbath at any moment. It does descend into bloody chaos toward the end, but this is TV after all, and it never gets quite as violent as Korean films. But Extracurricular keeps you on edge the entire time, and never fails to surprise or unnerve you with its willingness to dive into the deepest and darkest crevices of Korean society.