I want to believe forever
And keep thinking until the end
That there's meaning to my life
"Poison" (Sorimachi Takashi)
I wonder whether there are English-language blogs out here discussing Korean mystery fiction?
Because she failed in getting into an international school, Ahn Chae-yool is forced to make a late transfer to Seonam Girls High, but her very first day at school starts out as a complete disaster. She has just made a couple of steps outside her home when she is assaulted by "the biting man", a creepy man who has been leaving his teethmarks in the wrists of students of Seonam Girls High. And as if that wasn't enough, Chae-yool is also targeted by a different kind of dangerous entity at school: the Seonam Girls High Detective Club led by spectacled Yoon Mi-do has set its eyes on Chae-yool as its newest and fifth member and won't stop at anything in order to coax Chae-yool into joining the club and help catch "the biting man" terrorizing their school (actions include lying, fabricating evidence and basically stalking Chae-yool). In the course of the series, the Detective Club builds a reputation of being a group of nosy busybodies who do actually sometimes help their classmates and solve cases, while Chae-yool slowly uncovers a secret revolving around her literature teacher who seems a bit too interested in her in the South Korean TV drama Seonamyeogo Tamjungdan ("The Seonam Girls High Detective Club", 2014-2015).
Yes, it's the series that most people will probably know as "the series that featured the first onscreen lesbian kiss on South Korean television".
Seonamyeogo Tamjungdan is a 14 episode series, based on the novel with the same title by Park Ha-ik. I haven't read it, so no idea how faithful an adaptation the series is though. The series is probably best described as a school drama mystery, as Seonamyeogo Tamjungdan has a lot in common with 'normal' school drama series, like Great Teacher Onizuka. Many of the stories deal with themes often seen in that genre, like bullying at school, the gap between children and their parents, the reputation of the school and simply the things that come up when you grow up. These themes often form the background for the cases handled in Seonamyeogo Tamjungdan, which gives this series a distinct social school flavor, as it addresses the problems of society (and in particular the relation between students, their school and 'outside' society). In general, Seonamyeogo Tamjungdan does a good job at doing the school drama genre, helped by a fairly strong cast of young actresses.
As a mystery show, however, Seonamyeogo Tamjungdan is a fairly weak show however. The plots are very easy to guess and don't invite the viewer to think along with the protagonists. Admittedly, only two of the seven cases really lend themselves for whodunit couch-sleuthing (one about a photographer being shot at a gallery show and a case where a special order of delicious bread for Seonam Girls High was spiked with laxatives), but these cases are not challenging at all. The other cases too are not particularly surprising in the mystery department, and should more be enjoyed as whydunits, because as said, the cases do relate strongly to the school drama themes mentioned above. But seriously, the mystery plots themselves are sometimes incredibly chaotic and ask for every one involved to act in the most roundabout ways for no valid reasons (Looking especially hard at you, "the biting man" case!).
That said though, I did really enjoy the members of the titular Seonam Girls High Detective Club. It's a diverse group of girls who have enough enthusiasm to make up for their lack in finesse and experience. Like similar groups in series like the Koigakubo Academy Club Detective Club and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, the Seonam Girls High Detective Club is basically a group of misfits who want to play detectives (as opposed to Detective/Mystery Clubs that talk about detective fiction). It's fun seeing the members goofing around as they try to solve the case and are definitely what is most entertaining about the series. Also: I have no idea how life is at a all-girls' high school in South Korea, but man, I have the feeling that it's a scary place.
One thing though, Seonamyeogo Tamjungdan loves going all over the place in the comedy - human drama spectrum. The series will have cheap slapstick comedy in one scene, and in the next scene you're given tear-inducing speeches about bullying and suicide. Sure, a good balance between smiles and tears is always good, but Seonamyeogo Tamjungdan makes rather sudden and drastic jumps between cartoon-like comedy and "oh, mankind is so dark" drama, which can be a bit unsettling. Also, I don't know if this is the standard for South Korean TV dramas, but 70 minutes an episode is really long for the amount of story they had. A lot of scenes rather drag for a while.
Oh, and one little thing that really bothered me throughout the series: how many coats do these girls have?! Every case (every two episodes) they have a whole new wardrobe, it seems!
I did enjoy Seonamyeogo Tamjungdan, but mostly for its take on the school drama and the comedy. While I am fairly familiar with Japanese school dramas, this was the first time I saw a South Korean one, so that was an interesting experience (though they don't differ that much). As a mystery show however, Seonamyeogo Tamjungdan has rather weak plots. Even if you look at the show as a social school mystery, the plots sometimes make barely sense. I really did like the characters and I'd certainly watch a sequel series, but if I look at the show's 'merits' as a detective TV show (which is the idea behind this blog at the least), I can't say that this is a very captivating example of the Korean detective story. If you're interested in a school drama with a hint of mystery though, try it out.
Original Korean title(s): 박하익 (original novel) "선암여고 탐정단"