(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 Series: Itaewon Class

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: A Count of Monte Cristo revenge drama meets the boardroom politics of Succession in the K-drama Itaewon Class, which follows an ex-con who seeks to take down the biggest restaurant corporation in Korea, after the family running it put him away in prison.

Why It’s Essential ViewingItaewon Class has an electricity that pulses through its story of a young business owner whose group of ragtag employees try to hold down their bar in the hottest neighborhood in Seoul. Parasite‘s Park Seo-joon plays a different kind of K-drama protagonist in the series: Park Saeroyi, a young man with a bad haircut whose principles and strong sense of justice end up getting him in the worst trouble imaginable. His refusal to bow down (literally) to a CEO of a mega-corporation results in his dad getting fired, kicking off a series of events that ends with him in prison for attacking the CEO’s son in a fit of rage. It’s the stuff of an epic tragedy dialed up to 11, with an insanely watchable ensemble.

Based on the popular Korean webtoon of the same name, Itaewon Class follows Park Saeroyi as his life goes from bad to worse. He is just starting his senior year at a new high school when he steps in to stop the school bully from tormenting another classmate. Unfortunately, that school bully Jang Geun-won (Ahn Bo-Hyun, who has a preternatural ability to pull insanely punchable faces) happens to be the son of a CEO of a major corporation where Saeroyi’s father also works. But the megalomaniacal CEO is willing to forgive Saeroyi if he gets down on his knees and apologizes to his son. The impossibly principled Saeroyi refuses and shortly thereafter, he gets expelled from school and his father gets fired. Just when things seem like they couldn’t get worse, his dad dies in a hit-and-run accident, for which Saeroyi discovers Jang Geun-won is responsible. In a fit of rage he nearly beats Geun-won to death, and gets put away in prison for three years. Whew, what a first episode.

The rest of Itaewon Class is just as wild a ride, with Saeroyi resolving to start a business that would eventually rival and overtake the corporation of the family that caused him all this misfortune. Ten years later, he would open a pocha (a sort of sit-down bar) called DanBam in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Itaewon and hire a crew of misfits that all hail from backgrounds not usually seen on Korean TV — an ex-con, a transgender woman chef, and a black Korean man among them. The series follows the gang as Saeroyi grows his business from a little alleyway bar to one of the trendiest places in Itaewon, while struggling with the fact that his childhood first love Oh Soo Ah (Nara) works for his sworn enemy.

The romance is the least convincing part of the series — Saeroyi is involved in not one, but two love triangles, neither of which he seems very interested in — and the end goes off on a bit of a melodramatic tailspin, but the focus that Itaewon Class gives to boardroom politics and corporate scheming makes it incredibly addicting. Itaewon Class has a realistic edge to it that gives it more grit than the dozens of swooning K-dramas that often gloss over some of the more unseemly aspects of Korean society.

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