Korean Drama ‘Mr. Temporary’ Addresses Privilege And Vicious School Bullying

The school at the center of the drama Mr. Temporary aka Class of Lies is less a school than a nest of snarling vipers, although to the outside world it appears to be quite desirable. While privileged parents will pay cash and curry favor to enroll their children in this prestigious school, students focus less on academics than studying how to be cruel to those less fortunate and how to use their economic and social advantages to control others. 

When counseling a student on how to respond to bullying, one of the teachers, Geum Sae Rok, played by Ha So Yeon, tells him that being bullied at school is a fact of life. It only mirrors what will happen later in the work world when he is older. Standing up to the system may be the only way to survive, but that’s not without consequences as the system seems to be rigged all the way to the top.

When the drama starts, Ki Moo Hyuk, played by Yoon Kyun Sang, is a lawyer who is more interested in upping his profitable win quotient than achieving justice, but he gets targeted by a scheme that is as disastrous for his client as it is for his career. When he is treated unjustly, he suddenly becomes interested in justice. 

His unjust treatment starts with being assigned a case in which one student at the school has ostensibly murdered another, but he soon discovers that the ulterior motive behind this assignment is covering up a case that might get the wrong people in trouble.

In search of answers he winds up as a temporary teacher at the school where the pecking order is vicious. Those students being bullied are beaten, cruelly used for sport, and sometimes find it easier to give up on life rather than face more of the same. 

School bullying exists in every country, but in Korea, added to a fiercely competitive academic environment, it can be another reason that suicide is the most common cause of death among young people, ages 15 to 24. In this drama, more than one harassed student tries to kill himself by jumping off a building.

More often than not, the students being bullied in this drama are those who were admitted to the school for their superior academics rather than their family connections. That’s ironic because most of the wealthy students were admitted after their parents paid their way in with cash and favors.

At first the lawyer-turned-temp-teacher does not know who to trust. A student who seem nice enough, such as Yoo Beom Jin, played by U-Kiss member Lee Jun Young, is well respected, but while he’s not the cruelest of the students, he’s primarily focused on his own interests and that often means being indifferent to the cruelty of others.

While it’s easy to dislike Yoo and the other students in his circle, they are only mirroring the behavior of their parents, who corruptly mold the nation’s legal and political system to their own advantage. 

To clear out this nest of vipers, the teachers who truly care about the students will have to take on a system of corruption and privilege that is pervasive and powerful. It’s a worthy cause but a dangerous one.

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I am a journalist fascinated by Korean drama and film. Since 2013, my stories on Korean media and culture have been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Kultsce...