ky Castle is one of the best Korean dramas that I’ve seen, hands down.
The first time I watched it, I was blown away by its brilliance. Unfortunately, I started it on a Monday so I spent every evening after work bingeing on episodes and ignoring everything else until I finished it. It was so good that I simply could not write a review to do it justice.
I recently rewatched the drama with a friend and was blown away by it again. Even though I remembered most of it, it did not fail to keep me engaged. I actually noticed more this time and had the brain space to critically analyze it. And it is still just as brilliant.
It has been several weeks since my rewatch. I wasn’t sure if I’d write this review as I’m still in awe and unsure if my review will be good enough. But here’s me trying because more people HAVE to watch it.
Table of Contents
what is Sky Castle about?
- 1 what is Sky Castle about?
- 2 my thoughts on the drama
- 3 the characters
- 3.1 the Kang family
- 3.2 the Hwang family
- 3.3 the Cha family
- 3.4 the Woo family
- 3.5 Kim Joo-young
- 3.6 Kim Hye-na
- 3.7 the Park family
- 4 the soundtrack
- 5 discussion (INDLUDES SPOILERS)
- 6 overall
Sky Castle is a dark satirical drama about the lives, motivations, and greed of upper-class families and how it all comes down to academia. While the drama is about four affluent families, the stars of the show are the women of these households and how they run everything.
The most important character is Han Seo-jin, the wife of a high-profile doctor whose goal is to get her elder daughter into Seoul medical university. Her family is seemingly perfect on the outside but has several cracks that others don’t see.
Then there is Jin Jin-hee, Seo-jin’s “best friend” and right hand, who is not as polished as Seo-jin but wishes to be. She looks up Seo-jin a lot and follows her decisions. Jin-hee also dreams of getting her son into Seoul medical university later on.
Alongside them, there is No Seung-hye, the wife of a law professor who is the most elegant of them. She seems to be stoic and a pushover but she is actually quite smart and cares about her children.
In contrast to the above women, we have Lee Soo-im, an author from a humble background. Her family is not used to luxury and moving into the posh neighbourhood called Sky Castle is a novelty for them. All the other families look down on them because of their low roots.
The last critical woman is Kim Joo-young, a university coordinator/teacher who manages students’ studies and portfolios to get them into the best universities.
While these women are the core of the drama, their families and some other characters are also a part of the main cast. They come together to create this brilliant drama with several layers.
my thoughts on the drama
I have SO MUCH to say about this drama and I don’t know how to say it all without becoming a blubbering mess of “IT IS BRILLIANT!” All I want to do is shout “WATCH THIS” and hope people pick it up, LOL.
the plot was brilliant
Education matters a lot in Asian families. It is generally spoken about in terms of parental, societal, and peer pressure on students and the adverse effects of it. But academia bleeds into Asian lives regardless of the family member. That is one thing I LOVED about this drama. It shows how academia and grades rules families, familial relationships, how one lives their life, how one is respected, and more.
While academia is the core of the drama, the plot is built on other aspects as well. There is respectability and pride, classism, elitism, and how far one goes to achieve something. There are other smaller threads as well but if I bring up every single one of them, we’ll be here all day.
This is a slow-burning drama that starts with a few threads that multiply and tangle, leading to chaos in the end. Every single episode builds layers onto the core plot. Towards the end, everything crashes together and implodes. The plot is brilliant and ADDICTIVE, honestly.
the direction and production were A+
If I had to recommend a drama where they SHOW everything rather than TELLING (unlike Vincenzo), I’d say Sky Castle in a heartbeat.
The direction was done so well throughout the drama. They paid attention to the smallest details which make the scene. There was one unique thing here that I haven’t noticed in other dramas—there is a heavy emphasis on expressions. The eye contact, the set of mouths, the posture—all of it adds to scenes and it was brought out brilliantly in the direction.
The production was so good too. The soundtrack and audio effects elevated the scenes. The end of every episode had me at the edge of my seat with twists and shocking revelations.
the acting was on-point
Since I spoke about expressions just now, I have to give credit to the cast as well. This drama has a large main cast and every single actor brought their A game. They acted SO WELL. I cannot point out even one scene where they messed up the assignments.
The dialogue, the tones, the posture, the expressions—it was all on point. I can literally characterize every member just by how they carry themselves in the show. For example, No Seung-hye comes from the highest background among the characters and it SHOWS in how she stands, speaks, and smiles. I especially noticed how she’s the only one with a fully straight posture. She walks with grace and elegance which clearly shows her pedigree and background.
The entire cast deserves a ton of credit for their work in this drama. From the veterans to the teens—they took the script and made it art.
the characters were so interesting
Sky Castle has a large cast. While the women are the stars, as I mentioned before, their families are also a part of the main cast. There is also a focus on a few additional characters.
So that is a total of 20 characters all of whom received focus in the drama. We really go into the motives, dreams, emotions, and growth of every single character. Every character had growth in this drama which was so interesting to see because all of their growths are intertwined. I have no idea how they managed to pack all of that in just 20 episodes.
Most of the characters are morally grey which makes them even better. We go into WHY they’re like that, their pasts, their tragedies in life, and more. Shows with heroes and villains are interesting but shows with morally grey characters are amazing.
I especially loved that most of the main cast are middle-aged. There are so many dramas with young characters falling in love etc. but not enough with characters who are past that stage of life. This drama focuses on the parents. And it was SO INTERESTING. They all have pasts, histories, long-standing grudges, etc. and watching it all tangle and blow up was amazing.
questions parenting styles
Through various characters, the drama shows multiple realistic parenting styles. There are overly strict parents who try to micromanage their kids and their dream is to get the kids into the 1%. There are very casual parents who focus on overall development and happiness. There are parents in the middle who try to do both. And there are parents who are simply confused and want the best for their kids and make many mistakes.
The question that is subtly raised through all of this is how a parent should raise their children. What should they focus on? Is academics really the only important aspect? How much do they actually think about their kids’ dreams and happiness? How much are THEIR dreams? Will what worked for one child work for all children?
The drama does give some basic answers and guidance but does not give concrete answers, which is realistic because there is never a proper instruction manual that can be followed. Most parents want what is best for their children but that best is often biased with their own experiences and dreams.
This drama shows how things can go right and how they can go horribly wrong. And it is never a straight answer because a straight answer is not possible.
but it is also a good comedy!
It is about serious topics with dark tension-filled scenes but Sky Castle is also a comedy. It is a SATIRICAL drama. Even in the most intense episodes, there are perfectly placed moments of levity.
I loved how comedy was seamlessly weaved into the plot. They are so well-planned, too. When intensity is required, they dial up the tension so much and keep us on the edge of our seats. And in order to give us some relief, they easily throw in some humour.
It is somehow both an intense and humourous drama without ANY inconsistencies. Even if other shows combine serious plot and comedy well—like Kill Me, Heal Me—I’ve never seen this level of talented execution.
it was fun to analyze this drama
I’m someone who LOVES to analyze things and critique works that delve into topics. I love to think about the details, connect different threads, analyze WHY, and come to conclusions. It is so satisfying when a work of media is able to occupy my brain well.
The first time I watched it, I simply binged the show during my evenings after work. I did think about it a lot afterwards but I did not take the time to critically look at every single episode and scene.
When I watched it again with my friend recently, we watched one episode a day. It gave me the time to properly look at every episode and analyze what they showed. Of course, it helped that I knew the ending. So I could see how seemingly unrelated and non-threatening things led to chaos in the end.
Not only that, I was able to appreciate the work that went into EVERY scene. Not only the direction and editing but also the intent behind the scene and how it relates to other things.
My favourite has to be episode 10 which had one very important section. It was executed flawlessly. I STILL think about the episode. It lives rent-free in my mind. They brought out elitism so well with how the rich look at academia. Every line of dialogue in that section had an impact and deeper meaning behind it. The expressions and looks were SO GOOD. The scene was like a small implosion in the middle of the drama to get us ready for the rest.
Since I watching with a friend, I was also able to discuss every episode with someone and that was SO NICE. I had one of the best times ever watching this drama with my friend. After almost every episode, I used to say my favourite parts and ask “did you get that? did you see how BRILLIANT that was?”
If anyone wants to watch Sky Castle together, feel free to make plans with me! I’d love to watch it again, especially with people who also analyze things. I want to watch it again sometime because I KNOW that I will notice something new. It is a drama that shows more with every watch.
There are a ton of characters and I want to say a LOT about them all, but I’ll try to keep it concise.
the Kang family
A second-generation high profile doctor in Joo-nam University Hospital. He has been the “topper” since high school and is not used to losing to others. When he is passed on for the promotion that he was expecting, he becomes quite insulted. He is ambitious and will go to great lengths to get what he wants. He also has petty a rivalry with Cha Min-hyuk (will come to him soon).
Our main star and leading lady, Han Seo-jin is a seemingly perfect Sky Castle wife who supports her husbands and raises her children well. She takes too much interest in her daughters’ studies and dreams of making her elder daughter a third generation doctor in the family. There is so much more to her character under the surface which I cannot reveal due to spoilers.
Her character arc is definitely the most satisfying one in the show. I absolutely loved it.
Ye-seo is the perfect daughter for Seo-jin. She is ambitious like her father, is used to being number 1, is very spoiled by her mother, and dreams of getting into Seoul medical university. She is the picture-perfect Asian daughter but her character also shows how being good at studies may be enough in most cases but is definitely not enough long-term. She is not a “good person”. It is interesting how it is partly due to upbringing but also her own stubbornnes to not consider any criticisms.
She is one character that I have not properly analyzed yet but I would like to during my next watch.
I would say that Kang Ye-bin is an underrated character. She is the second daughter and is constantly overshadowed by Ye-seo. Her mother does not give her enough attention especially because she doesn’t study like Ye-seo and is simply not like Ye-seo. Through Ye-bin, we see how younger siblings generally feel in biased households when academia rules how you are treated.
She doesn’t make huge waves in the drama but sets off some things and her character arc is very meaningful.
the Hwang family
This family is the only one that does not have morally grey characters. While they are important in the drama, I did not find them as interesting as the others because they were straight-shooters.
He is the only good doctor that we see in this show. Chi-young is not “ambitious” and power-hungry. It is mostly because of his roots. He grew up in an orphanage (where he met his wife) and worked his way up through merit. He is a supportive husband and father, and a very caring doctor.
Soo-im is the righteous character in this drama. She quickly realizes how things are bad in Sky Castle and is especially concerned about the kids who are overly stressed. She tries to make things right and talk to the parents but obviously has a ton of pushback. She is not a good “upper-class wife” and doesn’t even try to be.
Woo-joo is the ideal son that any parent wants. He is well-mannered, a good friend, a good son, a good student—pretty much the perfect package. He is also a soft boy who crushes on a brave classmate. I did not care for his character at all until the end when chaos occurred and he went through quite some growth. It was interesting to see him at the very end. I wish we had more of that.
the Cha family
This family was the most interesting for me because of the parents. They have such a complicated past and present which seems simple on the surface. The arc that this family go through is very interesting. We really see how individual character arcs and family dynamic arcs are interdependent.
Min-hyuk is a law professor and a revered member in Sky Castle as a well-read and knowledgeable person. He runs his home with a tight fist and his personality is clearly seen in his home. The mansion is swathed in dark colours and intimidating architecture. He is extremely proud of his elder daughter who studies at Harvard and wants his sons to achieve that level as well.
He goes through a good arc towards the end but I would have liked more growth in him throughout the drama. It was interesting but could have been more.
She is one of the best characters in the show. Seung-hye doesn’t seem to be much on the surface but there is so much underneath her grace and elegance. Her character as a woman and a mother was especially interesting to see and I LOVED her character arc in the drama.
Cha Seo-joon and Cha Ki-joon
Twin sons who are like night and day. They were good characters but I would have liked more meaning to them. They were pretty stable throughout and didn’t have a ton of growth. They had potential but were mostly just variables in their parents’ plotlines.
Seri is the elder daughter who got into Harvard and is the favourite child of Min-hyuk and is MUCH more interesting than what we are initially told. I don’t want to say a lot but Se-ri is modelled after Asian children at the extreme end. I quite liked her character arc in the drama and how she was a grenade in her father’s arc.
the Woo family
This family on the good side of morally grey. They are not as interesting or intense as other families but do put in quite some meaning into the plot, especially towards the end.
An orthopaedic doctor under Kang Joon-sang, Yang-woo is present more a comedic character than an intense or meaningful one. Most of his scenes are for humour and they play out well.
Jin-hee is Seo-jin’s right-hand woman and best friend. She is quite wishy-washy and is easily influenced by others. She wants her son to become a doctor and be renowned. I really liked her arc as a mother because it is very meaningful and represents many real-life parents.
Yang-woo and Jin-hee’s only son, Soo-han is a middle-grade student and Ye-bin’s best friend. He is quite like his mother and is easily influenced by others, which Ye-bin uses because she is bossy. His only real contribution to the drama was to depict one type of student and child.
Joo-young is a university coordinator/teacher i.e. she takes care of every aspect of a student’s life so that they get into their dream university. She becomes Ye-seo’s coordinator which sets off a lot of the drama’s events. She brings the dark side to this drama and is like a villain. It is quite interesting to see into her past and her head. I would’ve liked more insight into her so I could analyze her but it was good enough.
Hye-na is Ye-seo, Seo-joon and Gi-joon’s classmate. She is from a poor background and her mother is severely ill, which requires her to work for a living and study. She has a lot of anger towards academic corruption. Especially because she is a smart student but cannot get a lot of the resources since she’s not rich. Her involvement in the chaos is very critical and interesting.
the Park family
They are technically not a part of the main cast but I include them because they have a lot of impact on the plot.
Soo-chang was a high-profile doctor and Kang Joon-sang’s boss and friend. He was well-mannered on the outside but a tyrant within his family, especially with his son. His character arc from a tyrant father to an angry father and husband to a repenting parent was interesting and emtional.
He did not have much screen time but whenever he did, it was impactful and meaningful.
Myung-joo was a respected and revered woman in Sky Castle because she got her son into Seoul medical university without him writing entrance exams. While students are congratulated for academic success, parents are celebrated because of the support they gave to their kids. How much a child’s academic success matters and how it can go wrong is shown through Myung-joo.
Young-jae is a seemingly perfect son who brought respect and pride to his parents. But he is quite flawed behind the scenes and has a lot to show as a pressured student and son. He has probably the least screen time among the character I mentioned but he sets off all the events in the drama with a bang.
We do follow him a little bit throughout the drama and it quite interesting to see his journey and growth.
The soundtrack of this drama was AMAZING. It truly elevated the scenes and was used properly. My favourite songs are the following two. We All Lie is pretty much the drama’s title track and perfectly matches the entire drama.
discussion (INDLUDES SPOILERS)
If you don’t want to get spoiled, click here to skip to the “overall” concluding section.
Some random spoiler-y points that I want to mention and share:
- I LOVED Han Seo-jin’s character! Especially the details! When she said “I’ll rip your jaw open” to Coach Kim for the first time and Kim had the slightest wince on her face – I was like AWESOME. It SHOWS that they were trying to tell.
- The way Kim Hye-na descended into obsession and chaos was nice to see. The girl lost everything and found out that her dad betrayed them, and that she could have had all the resources that Ye-seo does. The way she simply stops caring after that was interesting and intense. Especially the way she started roaming around the house as if it is her own. She went unhinged!
- Jin Jin-hee hugging her son and confessing that she really worries about whether she does the right or the wrong thing for her son was nice. It was heart-warming to see her admit it and say that she makes mistakes because there’s no manual on parenting.
- The episode 10 scene where the parents are all against Lee Soo-im in the library was SUCH A SCENE. Them saying “why should ordinary people know about how we live and how much we pay for our kids’ education? they can’t afford anyway so nothing good will come out of it? why tell them and bring chaos to them?” gave me chills. The way they casually said it as if they’re speaking on behalf of the regular people, for their benefit, really got to me.
- Towards the end when Kang Joon-sang went against his mother and said that he’s only been chasing goals and he “doesn’t know how to live” made me emotional. Throughout I never thought of him that way but it was correct. He only thought of the fact that he has always been number 1 and losing to Hwang Chi-young threw him off. And he is always obsessed with reaching the next goal without thinking about WHY he wants it. His mother pushes him for it and he just does it.
- The scene towards the end when his mother shows up to their home and the entire family pushes back against her, including Ye-seo was AWESOME. I loved it.
- I also liked how they showed that this academic pressure and the strive to keep pushing is generational. It is not as if some parents just started doing it. Parents have been doing it for generations and often new parents don’t know anything other than that, so they continue to do it with their children also.
- I also liked the way this drama focused on the parents and on WHY they put pressure. It’s often external influence too like Seo-jin being pressured by her mother-in-law for a third generation doctor.
- The drama also showed how parents often take their children’s wins and losses as their own and go too into it. Like when Kang Joon-sang lost the promotion but he could boast that “so what if I lost? my daughter gets better grades than his son and that’s all that matters.” It is shown in the other extreme through Cha Min-hyuk and Cha Se-ri as well.
- Cha Se-ri’s character was quite nice, though. Simply as a plot point and what her character proves. The lengths she would go to to keep her father proud of her and to not disappoint him. Because she knows that if she told the truth then he would very well disown her for being a failure, and a failure is not his child.
- Ye-bin’s arc was also good. It showed how she was acting out in orer to get attention and her mother did not even care. She simply took it in stride without seeing why Ye-bin is doing it. Seo-jin really showed how to not parent, lol.
That’s all I can think of for now. If I think of more (I probably will), I’ll update it here.
It is a brilliant drama that I recommend to everybody. Every single part of it was executed well and once you get into it and start to appreciate it, there is no going back.
Some people may find it hard to warm up to because of the slow start. I didn’t feel the same because I immediately got sucked into it due to the topics and the direction. But if you do feel it is too slow, just stick with it. It pays off later.