SKY Castle, a skyrocketing Korean Drama, is breaking through unprecedented ratings across the country. But what does this drama really tell us about our perceptions on success and love?

A daughter finds out that her mother is not her biological mother, a boyfriend finds out that his girlfriend cheated on him, a girl discovers that her rival’s mother’s step-sister’s nephew is her brother. These are some classic Korean drama plots, exaggerating daily events that may or may not happen in reality. However, SKY Castle, a skyrocketing drama in Korea that is reaching unprecedented popularity not only in Korea but also across Asia, breaks apart this classic representation of K Dramas. Captivating everyone from teens to 60-years-old, SKY Castle reveals one of the most sensitive topics in Korea, and frankly our lives.

The four main mothers featuring in this popular K Drama. https://www.monstersandcritics.com/kdrama/sky-castle-jtbc-k-drama-sets-record-for-network-and-cable-television-by-surpassing-tvns-goblin-and-reply-1988/

Broadcasted from late November 2018, this 20 episode series trails the lives of four families whose children are mostly in high school. While all of them are elite families of doctors and lawyers, these four families each experience their own hardship and pain as they struggle to prepare their kids to enter college.

On the surface, SKY Castle may seem like the over-exaggerated reality of high schoolers journey in getting into elite colleges. However, when dissected further, this drama is not so much of a drama as it unveils on some of the bleak, hidden realities, touching upon the most uncomfortable and vulnerable part of our lives: college, success, and parental love.

SKY Castle is a reflection of our lives that makes us redefine life and love. (http://www.wikitree.co.kr/main/news_view.php?id=397833)

One of the key messages that this drama illustrates is the obsession we have with college —what it is, what it does, and what it disrupts. SKY Castle highlights this strong emphasis in addition to the greed and desire that parents, and sometimes students, too, have on getting into an elite college.

Main student characters in the drama who find their definition of success throughout struggles. (https://www.hellokpop.com/kdrama/k-drama-premiere-sky-castle/)

Many think that getting into a prestigious university equals prosperity and attending a name-value school brings some form of inexplicable joy into the home. But we can all agree that this socially valued norm can consume our thoughts, making us lose our own selves and definition of happiness. Just look at Ye-Suh’s father, a man who for so long focused on reaching the top position and recognition, slowly recognizing how striving straight for the top makes you lose simple things in life: love, joy, sorrow. Things that make us feel human.

In addition to focusing so much on college, SKY Castle also sheds light on our corrupt definition of success.

http://news.zum.com/articles/49717515

Sure, killing a rival shown in the drama may not seem realistic, but it does symbolize something: there is an unquenchable desire to win and be number one. Much like how we have been cultured to think that college defines one’s identity, we have constructed our culture to believe that winning someone is a sign of victory. As portrayed by Ki Joon and Seo Joon’s father, we believe that we must reach the top of the pyramid by stepping on others and getting up beyond them. We believe that we can only gain victory by how we compare to  the people around us. In fact, if we think about it, this notion of reigning in victory relative to those around us drives this drama’s plot; the motive of the students is to be ‘number one.’

The other bleak reality this drama uncovers is college entrance coordinators. Across the globe we have consulting groups who help students get into colleges, much like Kim Joo Young in the drama. However, we can often be too consumed by getting into a college that we might let those groups overtake our voice. It’s important to note here that I am by no means saying that consulting advisors or agencies are harmful or useless. I have seen and heard countless students be successful and happy with the coordinators help and I’m sure they do incredible work to support you  reaching your dreams. But we also need to remember to have our own say in our education and life.

Ye-suh’s mother shows desperation to the coordinator.

Ye-suh is virtually controlled by her coordinator, listening to her directions and suggestions rather than directing her own path. Like Ye-Suh’s life crumples throughout the episodes, we are vulnerable just like her to feel hopeless and helpless. Some agencies layout everything in linear order; you must do this and this to get this. But we don’t realize that not everything in life is a straight line. There’s curves, squiggles, slanted lines, perfect lines, and unfinished lines. We must remember to break away from that line drawn in front of you; make sure you control your direction because no one, not your mom not your consulting firm, will determine your future but you.

As exaggerated as it seems, the consulting agencies may in real life “control” you. http://www.hankookilbo.com/News/Read/201901081896712588

But perhaps the most important message of the drama, SKY Castle shares the warmth and commonality we all have: family love. All four families have different lives and personalities; they are all so distinctive that you can’t help it but ask one another, “ which one of the four moms is like yours?”

Despite the diversity of the four, all of them show family love as the common denominator. This universal feeling, the most powerful love that’s stronger than any other relationship, ties all the families together. Take Ye-suh’s mom for example. We feel anger and happiness toward this character for her cruel acts. But we are forced as viewers to empathize with her; after all, her daughter’s life is at risk. Just like any mom in the world, she is just trying to protect her daughter, urging the viewers to feel indecisive about her.

The tension and unconditional love a mother has for her kids. (http://www.christiantoday.co.kr/news/318871)
A mother having to give up on her daughter’s life to reveal the truth.

The unconditional love of the mother for her child is such a powerful feeling and emotion. It’s the mother’s love that takes in all the child’s sins and brings warmth to the cold soul. It’s the mother’s love that she gives life and breath to the child.

For me, I am fortunate and grateful to have a mother who understands and values my say in my path, who doesn’t make me feel bad about a low number, who doesn’t believe that success is defined by a certain acceptance. But I know that many of my peers and Korean students feel that their moms are pressuring them to achieve the highest; even as you are reading this, you might feel yourself emphasizing with Ye-suh more. But as this drama shows, regardless of which of the four families you seem to lie in, all mothers have the same desire for a child: to be successful in the real world and to find happiness. Sometimes, however, our definition of success may not line up, or maybe you’re like Soo-han and you don’t know what that looks like. That’s okay because that just means that you haven’t struggled enough to find that definition. But regardless, always remember the unconditional love that family has.

http://www.munhwanews.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=157132

There is still so much to delve into in this drama, whether that’s the characterization, symbols, or shootings. But for me, as someone still struggling to find my own definition of success, SKY Castle lent me a perspective. It didn’t give me a solution to the doubts and uncertainties I hold, but it proved to me that I am not alone in this journey- that this is a universal experience we all feel. That joy, regret, shame, evil are all so human. Perhaps, the intro song We all lie aims to tell us the same.

I respect the writer for her audacity to write such a sensitive, veiled topic, to tell us how corrupt our definition of success is, and most importantly, to remind us the infinite power parental love holds.

– Sarah Se-Jung Oh (’19)

Featured Image: https://www.thestar.com.my/news/regional/2019/01/03/popular-south-korean-drama-sky-castle-blamed-for-inspiring-copycat-murder-of-doctor/