The trailer for “Extracurricular” was deliciously ambiguous and my expectations were high for this Netflix Originals South Korean teen crime drama. The series follows model student Oh Ji-soo who’s living a double life as a criminal mastermind because he wants a chance at a normal life—going to college and getting a normal job requires a lot of money. He’s about to graduate and is on the verge of saving enough when his life takes a nosedive. Rich classmate Bae Gyu-ri blackmails him into letting her in on the business and the bad decisions they make together drive them into a life full of violence. It’s dark, gritty and will make you fearfully wonder if today’s teens are mixed up in similar situations.
The show has a risky narrative. In fact, before the end credits rolls, the show flashes a note for teen viewers stating that if they need help, they should reach out to someone.
It takes a couple of episodes before Jisoo admits to himself that he’s essentially exploiting women doing compensated dating, which is actually a translation of the Japanese term “Enjo-kōsai” for the of practice older men giving money or gifts to young women in exchange for sexual favors. At first, he tries to convince Gyu-ri that he’s offering security services to victims of sex trafficking. As things get more complicated with Gyu-ri’s ambition to grow their “business,” it becomes harder for them to separate themselves from the crime they’re committing. An incident with a violent client puts their sex trafficking ring on the radar of police officer Lee Hae-gyoung. For better or for worse, at least someone’s trying to save these kids from themselves.
“Extracurricular” is no moral story. That cliffhanger tells us that Jisoo and Gyu-ri are way past redemption. Gyu-ri’s in it to get away from her controlling CEO parents while Jisoo turned to crime because his gambling addict single dad would rather steal his son’s cash than support him in any way. The intimacy that builds between them is born out of the price they pay for wanting different lives for themselves. Despite their circumstances, we can’t exactly root for them. They’re tired but they’re determined to cover up their tracks.
Is “Extracurricular” a must-watch? Maybe, if you’re looking for something gripping and action-packed. Relative newcomers Kim Dong-hee, Jung Da-bin, Park Joo-hyun and Nam Yoon-soo gave excellent performances. If the show was on your watchlist because you had your eye on Dong-hee after watching “Itaewon Class,” his role definitely showed us more of his acting chops.
“Extracurricular” is eye-opening as it borrows from real-life horrors. Stream it with care. Despite that and the unanswered questions (How did Jisoo end up starting this?) and Jisoo’s unsteady characterization (Why does he turn into a bumbling, stuttering boy when faced with girls?), I admit that I’ll probably be watching its second season if it does drop.