My thoughts on Hi! School-Love On’s casting

(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.)

My reservations:

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.

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2 thoughts on “My thoughts on Hi! School-Love On’s casting

  1. This is a very interesting question. I just read about the casting of Kim Sae Ron alongside Yoon Shi Yoon in Witch Bogam. He definitely has a baby face (so excited he is back in the civilian world!), but the whole premise of this drama is that it is a love story, and he’s more than twice her age. If it wasn’t a love story it would be of no consequence, but I was looking through a list of “youngest actors” in South Korea and it seems that most of the male actors are late teens or early twenties, while the ages of female actors often hit mid-teens.

    I’m concerned that this kind of casting continues to perpetuate sexualization of pre-pubescent girls. It’s sad because I’m very impressed by Kim Sae Ron’s abilities, still as you pointed out above, it’s not quite like Jodie Foster where there are adult themes to be explored. The desexualized “romantic” relationships portrayed in these types of shows leave a strange gap. Sexuality and sexual desire are often disconnected from love, romance and marriage, but we well know that isn’t the case. This can create a strange dynamic in translating between TV love stories to real life relationships. Women are portrayed as being mannequin-like in such situations, as we saw in Flower Boy Next Door; but how does that bode for girls and women who actually live and love in South Korean? What expectations are being put on them, and how much information and education are they given surrounding their own sexuality, and empowerment within their own sexual lives?

    Similar trends have long affected Japanese society, and in some ways it is worse over there. Nevertheless, I hate to put all this on the shoulders of a young, talented actress who I’m sure will have a long and successful career. I’m actually interested to see these two actors work together because they are both so soulful and serious about their craft. In that way they are a good match. I just don’t know about that kind of age gap between romantic leads from a professional point of view.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m really glad you brought this up again because my thoughts on this issue have been changing. I hadn’t even considered the effect of casting a teen girl on the disconnect between romantic love and sexuality onscreen- and it’s an interesting and somewhat distressing thought. I find this especially an interesting phenomenon to explore as shows move away from lip touches masquerading as kisses and into lips actually moving. A teen girl is expected to feel puppy love, and an adult would be expected to feel a mix of romantic and physical feelings- so by casting adult males opposite female teens, are shows reinforcing the message that women should be “pure” while sexual feelings are natural for men? Reinforcing women as the object of lust, but never the one feeling said lust? Perhaps I’m taking that thought too far, but I do think that Kim Sae Ron, while beautiful and mature looking, is still visibly a child and Yoon Shi Yoon is not. He does look young and I think the two would work well together and probably be cute as heck, but I’m still not sure about it. (I also dislike how teens are portrayed on American television, though.)

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