Tiger moms and exam stress? We can totally relate.
It’s not romance and supernatural beings taking over South Korean cable TV dramas these days; it’s the obsession over grades and college admissions among the elite.
SKY Castle, a new Korean drama from JTBC, is making history not just for tackling such complex and controversial, but also for setting viewership records. Its latest episode, which aired on 19 January has overtaken earlier cult favourites Goblin and Reply 1988 to become the most-watched drama episode nationwide in South Korean cable network history, at an average audience share of 22.3 percent.
The drama was a surprise hit; few people had expected it to do so well. From just 1.7 percent for the pilot episode, SKY Castle‘s nationwide viewership ratings kept going up every week, shooting to the top of Korea’s “most buzzworthy dramas” for over a month.
Due to this unexpected popularity, JTBC added four additional episodes, extending the original 16-episode plan to 20. Two more episodes remain at the time of writing.
So, what is this wildly popular drama about? Check out the following trailer for a preview:
The name actually reveals a lot about the storyline. “SKY” is so capitalised because it’s a common acronym among South Koreans to refer to the nation’s three top and most prestigious universities: Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University.
They are also the universities that the parents – especially the mothers – of SKY Castle will have their children enter, no matter what it takes.
Leading the huge cast of characters as the mothers are five veteran actresses: Yum Jung Ah, Lee Tae Ran, Yoon Se Ah, Oh Na Ra and Kim Seo Hyung. The first four are the heads of their ultra-wealthy and elite families, which make up the top 0.1 percent in South Korea. The parents’ obsession with asserting and preserving their upper class status informs the “Castle” part of SKY Castle.
Yup, the drama is a satirical black comedy about tiger moms, parents competing over their kids’ education, and academic stress. Sound familiar?
What about the kids of SKY Castle? They’re definitely not as conniving and competitive as their parents.
Much of the buzz around the drama has also been about Kim Dong Hee, the rising actor from web drama series A-Teen, who now plays Cha Seo Joon, a kind-hearted high school student, in SKY Castle. Seo Joon is the oldest son of Yoon Se Ah and Kim Byung Chul’s characters.
Kang Chan Hee, better known as Chani from the K-pop boy group SF9, has also received praise for his portrayal of Hwang Woo Joo, the smart son of Lee Tae Ran’s character. He has to juggle not only his parents’ high expectations of him, but also a love triangle at school.
By delving deep into family drama, SKY Castle takes viewers through the dark sides of Korea’s controversial education system, including suicides. Things may get pretty dramatic, but the drama offers an important and difficult look into topics we think many of us Singaporeans can empathise.
You can watch full episodes of SKY Castle on the streaming platform Viu.