(I have seen multiple spellings of the title, so I am just going to go with whatever works for me as I’m typing.)
I was disappointed that High School- Love on didn’t air this week. It has elements I’ve been missing for several seasons, like the hint of fantasy and the high-school setting. Kim Sae Ron as Lee Seul Bi creates a complex, sweet, mischievous, slightly old-man-like character that I can’t help caring for. As a reaper who is unexpectedly made human, (a human teenager at that) she speaks to everyone as if she is on equal footing with them (including holier-than-thou entitled middle aged women) and doesn’t quite get why you can’t walk in the bathroom and stare at boys’ 6-packs while they shower. Fish-out-of-water characters are always refreshing, especially when they’re curious and enthusiastic instead of being freaked out. The fact that those around her are not sure if she’s crazy or not is also interesting, because while it’s played for laughs there is an undercurrent of serious concern for her well-being.
Since the 3rd episode didn’t air, I’ll take a minute to talk about an issue I’ve been thinking about off and on. The two main leads are played by members of the band Infinite. They were also both born in 1991, while Kim Sae Ron was born in 2000. As I have not heard of Infinite but am a fan of Kim Sae Ron, my first thought was that the casting was odd because it brought in grown men to act opposite a 13-14 year old. As I realized the two leading men might be the main draw to many to watch the show, I wondered whether I would have preferred an older main actress.
I came to the conclusion that I don’t really mind the casting, although I do have some reservations.
Why I think it’s Fine:
Kim Sae Ron is the best and most experienced of the three lead actors. I won’t go as far as to say Lee Sung Yeol and Nam Woo Hyun are bad, but they are still growing as actors. (By the way, why are their characters names the same as there real names? Can neither of them remember a new name? That seems pretty basic, acting wise.)
Plot wise, Lee Seul Bi is a supernatural creature, and therefore appearance and age are not extremely relevant. I think Kim Sae Ron’s beauty is just a touch unusual, and that works well for the supernatural bent, also. Anyway, Ma Boy had a similar age gap between leads and responded by keeping the relationship very PG (spoiler for Ma Boy ahead:) – acknowledgement of mutual liking and a non-lip-to-lip kiss was as far as it went. (end spoiler.) This isn’t a Brooke Shields or Jody Foster situation, where a child actress is in a production with adult themes. The characters’ ages aren’t 23 and 14, so there’s not going to be anything that tries to justify that relationship. (And while I can handle a 17/26 year old relationship such as in High School King if the plot gives me mature enough characters, which I might address later, 14 is too young to have a relationship with an adult.)
I think casting adults as teens is already an issue. Even the most beautiful, together teen usually has one or two features that are a little awkward. In most shows about teens, teenagers don’t see people like themselves (maybe with acne, maybe with limbs that look too long for their bodies, maybe with a broad frame that is skinnier than they’d prefer, or maybe boys a whole head shorter than their female classmates) but, like everything else in film, they see an idealized version of what they should look like. An important reason for this is because teens can’t work as long as adults can (and for South Korea, a new law limiting hours to 35 per week was just passed) but when you add in a lead who is underage it seems like that shouldn’t be a consideration. Now, teens going through awkward stages are probably never going to be the majority of the cast in a high-school production. Even if teens are hired, it is always going to be those that either magically missed adolescence’s evil sense of humor or have already gone through it. They, however, would all still look like teens. I don’t like the pressure on teens to instantly look grown.
Furthermore, when you cast grown men opposite a teen, you’re also putting further pressure on women to look young, and not just early 20s young, but just-post-puberty young. Of course, if Kim Sae Ron was being cast as someone older than herself that would be more of an issue for me, but it is the male actors who are playing younger men.
I would love to hear others’ thoughts on this, and how they differ from mine. Maybe you think the show sucks, or maybe you think the the casting is an issue. Let me know.