"I will get you to the very top. Don't you think I can? I've paved the way for you. If you just endure and push yourself a little, you can have an easy ride to the top. My son, can you do that?" a father whispers to his kneeling son pointing to a model of a pyramid, after he failed to solve a math problem in the given time during a father-son study session.
This suffocating scene is from the ongoing drama "SKY Castle." Viewers know that reality can be even worse.
Recently, a high school teacher stealing exam papers for his twin daughters attending the same school in southern Seoul to enable them to boost their academic records needed for college admission juxtaposes with stories of students who achieved perfect scores in the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) grace news headlines.
Education and the ardor for success remain constants in Korean society, and the JTBC drama "SKY Castle" mocks Korea's elite parents' obsession with competitive education. It is enjoying an explosive response from viewers.
The viewership of the black comedy, which kicked off with merely 1.7 percent, Nov. 23, has jumped more than five-fold since the first episode. The viewership for the latest episode, aired Saturday, surged to 8.9 percent.
With a storyline of parents hiring a ghost writer, who is a law professor, to write an entrance essay for their son, and another hiring a personal counselor which costs the parents over 100 million won a year, "SKY Castle" draws drama fans into a world in which "Korea's 0.1% elite live together to rise even higher" and "endless greed spreads its wings."
Drama fans end up debating the differences and similarities between the story and real life. "The parts about the counselor show what is real. In the current college entrance system, with so many admission processes which differ from college to college and changes over time, it is almost like a war of information in order for parents to send their kids to prestigious universities," said a mother surnamed Kim. She lives in Mokdong, an area in the west of Seoul where education fervor has hit parents hard.
"Those who are familiar with information about their target university's selection process fast become winners. Based on the information, coordinators make study plans and search overseas contests and competitions that their kids can get high scores on, which the targeted college processes."
But high profile coordinators choose their customers, not the other way around, she says. "When choosing their students they require information about parents' jobs and income. Now children from rich families have an absolute advantage in college admission," she added.
"Although stories of those chaebol owners might be wholly different, upper-class elite parents try to send their children to Seoul National University first and later make them transfer to Ivy League colleges, because school ties are regarded as important in Korea."
The drama also vividly portrays the skewed and gone-awry psyche of the children suffering from the pressure to get academic achievements. Park Young-jae, who just received admission to SNU, had to conceal his hatred until his parents' happiest moment, the day their son was accepted to SNU medical school. The son they knew as gentle and smart leaves the family, with the acceptance letter they'd wanted so badly and a diary stored on a tablet cursing his "hellish" family. The youngest daughter of Han Seo-jin, a housewife married to a medical doctor who is obsessed with making her family reach three generations of medical doctors, habitually steals snacks from a convenience store to relieve the stress of academic pressure. Her mother, instead of preventing her from doing so or asking why, pays the store owner to turn a blind eye.
Culture critic Jung Duk-hyun says the drama has received attention from viewers, because it successfully strikes two things ― the curiosity and uneasiness of looking at those rich elite families' education obsession.
"In terms of education, the drama satisfies people's desire to peek into what those closed rich family circles do for their children. But at the same time, viewers feel uneasiness when watching their stories. Those two conflicting emotions ― wanting to know but feeling uncomfortable ― makes for some interesting chemistry in the minds of drama fans and puts it on the must-see drama list."
source: The Korea Times