First Impressions: High School Music K-drama Monstar is a Total Win

Potential drama crack addiction alert! I’m still loving every minute of tvN’s Cyrano Dating Agency but I actually enjoy just watching it without the desire to recap it. The couple of the week stories are disposable narrative fun but nothing to write about, while the main cast is doing a fantastic job but their stories don’t yet have any meat to discuss. To help ease me down from the King Flower ledge where a Terry-less existence feels so empty, I started watching Monstar (the ridiculous splicing of Monster + Star) at the recommendation of some folks who think it’s right up my alley. Thanks to those who pushed me to check out this 12-episode (once a week) offering airing on music channel Mnet because I am now totally, utterly, and passionately in love with a drama I never even knew existed a week ago comprising of a main cast of young singers and idols I couldn’t pick out of a line up prior to this drama airing and never heard of their names before. Goes to show what an actual compelling narrative presenting deftly can do. This feels like Answer Me 1997’s cousin with a different but equally interesting attitude, with some of the best elements of Dream High thrown in as well. Starring Yong Jun Hyung of pop group Beast, newbie singer-actress Ha Yeon Soo (a dead ringer for 1990s HK actress Theresa Lee), Kang Ha Neul in the silently caring second male lead role, Dahee of girl group GLAM, and other youngsters to round out the high school cast, watching Monstar feels like an exhilarating breath of fresh air punctuated with great music and a very compelling story. This is nothing new or extraordinary, it’s simply something deliciously consumable prepared just right. Doesn’t hurt that it’s from the PD of Sungkyunkwan Scandal and Cinderella Unni, two of the most visually pretty K-dramas out there, and written by the writer who also adapted Sungkyunkwan Scandal from the novel. There are only three episodes out so far but after marathoning through it last night I can safely say this drama is Da Bomb.

Min Se Yi is a high school transfer student who just moved back to Seoul from living in New Zealand for the past 5 years on a sheep farm (What are you, Heidi? That’s the Swiss Alps). Just go with it, it’s a running joke and important to the narrative because she has no clue about Korean pop idols and fan culture, plus she has a hilarious dead pan personality which occasionally fires up when the one person who can push her buttons makes her acquaintance on her first day at school. For once the leading lady is not a cookie cutter Candy character or so feisty as to border on being a social caricature. She’s got a bit of Suzy‘s Hye Mi robotic weirdness from DH but she’s a very caring and socially aware girl. The only person to get under her skin is of course our resident leading man.

That guy is high school-aged idol Yoon Seol Chan (“I am a star! A star!), lead vocalist for boy band Man in Black and all-around emotionally arrested development boy wonder. In their first meeting he mistakes Se Yi for an overzealous fan, manages to get a hold of her cell phone, and promptly gets intrigued by her oddness. Seol Chan lands in hot water with the public for a fan incident and to rehabilitate his image he gets sent back to high school as a real student until all the scandal dies down. Seol Chan seeks out Se Yi to share the same table with since she’s the only one who doesn’t give a fuck about him (either as a fan or as an anti). They are so like fire-water I slurp up their mutual fascination and/or disdain for each other.

Their class comprises of class president Jung Sun Woo (played by Kang Ha Heul from To the Beautiful You) who appears to have mutual loathing with Seol Chan, class bully Shin Jae Rok and his large minion Cha Do Nam, bullied aspiring singer Park Kyu Dong, resident gossip Shim Eun Ha, and class bad girl and outcast Kim Na Na. These seven kids are clearly going to have their school lives all tangled up together as music is the pervasive thread that brings conflict and camaraderie.

I’m the first to admit I’m not a K-pop fan and don’t know any of the songs whether its new stuff or oldies being sung in Monstar, but I can safely say that the music is very effectively weaved into the story and sounds fantastic even when its being purposely butchered. There is a sincerity that surrounds this production, so that even when its produced to launch music careers and tie in with music products, I feel like the actors and production actually have a care about telling a meaningful story with heart.

I am unhealthily obsessed with the OTP of Se Yi and Seol Chan, all you second lead Sun Woo shippers to the left, to the left please. Heck, I even gave you a Sun Woo photo bomb above so that ought to satisfy. Seol Chan has the EQ of a sheep and Se Yi is so emotionally dysfunctional beneath her poker face, and they are the only ones who always pushes each other’s “awkward and off-kilter” buttons in ways that make me literally squeal out loud. I’m not a fan of Seol Chan’s penchant for pulling Se Yi all around, even if their chemistry is so potent I’m fanning myself and wondering how these two youngsters bring more heat than many drama OTPs consisting of older and more experienced actors. I love that Seol Chan and Se Yi are opening up and experiencing things because of each other, and both have this laser-sharp way of zeroing in each other’s sore spots and avoidance areas to push each other forward. When one does something wrong, the other hits back just as hard, and neither ever gives in inch. It’s a very contentious yet fascinating dynamic that is the opposite of nurturing and understanding, which works perfectly for their personalities because they run away from stuff so they need to confront their demons in order to break free of their emotional baggage.

This drama is funny, weird, adorable, entertaining, everything that makes watching something come alive visually and then take root in the imagination. By episode 3 the story is barreling full speed ahead and all the main cast members have characters that have been fleshed out in a few short but effective strokes. The adults are wonderfully cast and add the gravitas to this show, with Ahn Nae Sang playing a mysterious character with some connection with Se Yi, Lee Hee Jin as Se Yi’s aunt and high school teacher, and hilarious Jo Jae Hun as Seol Chan’s put upon manager. Check out a few choice scenes from the drama while I mull over whether to recap this baby.

First trailer for Monstar:

Se Yi sings as about everyone being born alone:

Se Yi, Seol Chan, and Sun Woo harmonizing to “Trouble Maker”:

Seol Chan daydreams about Se Yi laying on top of him, and then imaginary Sun Woo shows up for a grammar lesson follow up:

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First Impressions: High School Music K-drama Monstar is a Total Win — 60 Comments

  1. You still didn’t watch Shut Uo flower boy band, right koala? I think you would enjoy it, but it seems you aren’t going to watch it, makes me think you dislike some actor there?

  2. I might try this drama out!
    I’ve really been liking dramas from cable networks lately. The dramas on the regular networks just haven’t really grabbed me.

    And just wanted to throw this out there if anyone is looking for an action drama to watch. You should try out “Cruel City aka Heartless city” from JTBC. It just started airing but it’s so good! 🙂

      • I just watched both episodes raw version and omggg so much stuff happening and it’s only 4 episodes in! And Jung Kyung Ho is just killing it as Shi Hyun! Such a good actor~

    • Cable dramas rock!! From Shut Up Flower Boy Band to Flower Boy Next Door to Special Affairs Team Ten (1&2) to Can We Get Married? To Nine to even Vampire Prosecutor to MONSTAR it doesn’t cease to amaze me!!! If anything when i watch these drama I know that I can trust it to be good without messing up somewhere along the line to pull up some extra drama twist for the sake of twist or to fill extra episodes

  3. Capt K – awesome!!! Ever since I gave up JOJ LIL a few weeks ago, I stumbled on this one, Monstar, which had just aired ep 1. Thank goodness, that helped ease the pain from JOJ drop and the AHYI drop, which left me with no kdramas. I just found it cute and breezy. 🙂 After 3 episodes, I want to know what happens to these kids, although I am trying very hard to not make it a crack drama – I have been burned just too many times. Here’s hoping this one is lovely all the way through.

    I am seriously thinking of giving CDA a chance too based on everyone (including Koala’s) nice comments about it.

  4. I love this drama. Quite surprised at how “hot” some of the scenes are between the young actors. I thought idols couldn’t do some of the things that they do here … lying on top of each other … not once but twice … in a car and then during the imagined scene on his bed. Maybe it is because they are on cable rather than the network channels, but this drama grabbed my attention and I am also hooked.

  5. I’ve been watching this one too. At first I thought another high school drama…but I watched school 2013 early this year and liked it so I gave this one a chance. The first episode amused me, second intrigue me, third hooked me to stay till the finish.

  6. I think it’s da bomb, too! Haven’t been hooked on any drama for so long until this came along. Now I curse myself that I have to suffer in this waiting game. And *giggling* I got my teenage son following it with me, it’s a first!

  7. Yayy! You also like this drama..
    Monstar and Last Cinderella are my source of awww-ing and gushing this spring.. ^^

  8. Awesome! So happy you found it to your liking! I super love this drama I didn’t expect much about it but it totally proved me wrong.
    This drama cracks me up but it also has a heart that makes me reminisce during my high school days. I’m such a sucker for this kind of HS drama.

    Yeah I’m a Seol Chan See Yi shipper too. But I’m a fan girl of Sun Woo hihi he’s mine! 😉

  9. Really Good Drama. Their chemistry is so good, and i totally ship OTP. However, i hope it isn’t only his company music that is played.

  10. Hi Koala Unni,

    I am team Sun woo but now I love Seo Woo…. 🙂 This my first crack drama and I knew it from the first episode that I want MORE of this drama. 🙂 I am happy that you are into this drama but you gotta try watch Cruel City/Heartless City…

  11. Omg!! I’m so happy you like this show! I just started yesterday by chance and I’m hooked. The only downside is that there’s only one episode per week and it’s a 12 episode show. I love the funny moments…and there’re plenty. An the heart-wrenching/-warming moments are well portrayed IMO. I love this show and it’s introduced me to the music of B2ST and Jun Hyung. 🙂

  12. OMG!!!! SQEEEEEEEEEEE! I was actually just checking this drama out as well today on viki and I loved it:). I am so happy you are on board and loving this drama I love reading your opinions and thoughts.

  13. *YEY!!! *waving!! *jumping up and down!!!! My favourite blogger has picked up my favourite drama! I.AM.SO.EXCITED. It feels so good to be with you on the same crack train again.

  14. Your drama crack alert came too late for me, I’m already addicted. I love the directing and the tone of the drama, and only 3 episodes in I can’t believe how invested I am in these kids. Not just the OTP either, (although I love them to bits!), but the secondary characters as well. My only regret is that I didn’t wait for this to finish airing before watching so that I could binge on it all at once!

    • That! It’s not just the OTP, but it’s a whole many of the secondary characters in them – from “Radio” to Nana – I already love and can’t wait for their stories to unfold.

      The one episode a week is painful, but let’s hope that means the quality will be better than with other dramas that push out two eps a week!

      It’s been fab so far, I want it to stay that way!

  15. This is my drama crack since ep1 – the only drama right now that I’m watching twice: raw and subbed. I am shipping Sun Woo with Se Yi although I know he won’t get the girl.

    I do wish they released their ost songs more. They also need to give Kang Ha Neul a song to sing asap!

  16. Caught the Monstar ‘fever’ from Ep 1. Love Se Yi and Seol Chan. Loving it more than other high school or dream high dramas.

  17. Yes!! After I got addicted to the show I was looking up info about it online and was surprised that many people had found the episodes mediocre or subpar. Glad to see that I’m not the only one who thinks the show is awesome.
    And I am totally on the same OTP ship as you are. Se Yi and Seul Chan for he win! But I also love the scenes Se Yi has with Sun Woo and Radio.

  18. Oh yes yes yes, you discovered this underrated gem! I’ve been in a six-month kdrama slump and this pulled me out of it, so that’s saying quite a lot (tbh, I kinda thought I was done with kdramas). I like how it’s quirky and warm and makes me care about these characters even though I know little about idols and even less about kpop. It’s just – it reminds me of old school jdramas, or maybe a manga.

    Oh, and just for you:

    http://25.media.tumblr.com/ba19f6b81c6c129665156aa52d4b9609/tumblr_mnukbueP2w1rxl507o4_1280.jpg

    Their chemistry is insane.

  19. I am a singer myself, so when it comes to musicals, I have some high standards that the lead singers should actually be able to SING. Monstar delivers. I really want to hear a whole, uninterrupted song by “Radio” followed by thunderous applause.

    Sheep Girl and Star Boy do have a great dynamic. Sorry, Sun Woo, you are the boy she just plain forgot about. Terrible to be overlooked, but Sheepie is already blinded by Stary.

    The tears scene … very arresting. Reminds me of the way Flower Boy Ramen Shop’s lead is stuck puzzling over the reaction of Volleyball girl. Loved the whole effect of her lying on top of him then blowing away as smoke. Visually, many of the scenes are beautifully shot and striking.

    It pains me to pick up another only-one-episode-per-week show, after King Flower and Last Cinderella, but I’m all in with Monstar.

  20. BTW, can you recap this one pretty please, Capt. K?

    This is the very first time I am equally divided between the 1st and 2nd male leads. I love Sun Woo,I think he is just perfect (which makes him the perfect 2nd lead who never ever gets the girl… *le sigh) I also find Kang Ha Neul hot. Although this drama has not shown it yet (watch TTBY if you don’t believe me), this guy has a body to die for! *fans self (has anyone mined him yet? no?.. ok, MINE!)

    But I am intrigued by Seol Chan. He is supposed to be this classic cold, arrogant and rich male lead, who of course has big time mommy issues, but it speaks of the deft execution of the drama that he is actually endearing. Seol Chan reminds me of SG’s Joo Won (hello Hyun Bin)”I am a star, a star!!” and equally hilarious. I also love that 3 episodes in, Seol Chan has already fallen for the girl, and we already got that hot scene in the van. yes! thank you drama gods!

    And I end this note with another plea to the Captain – recap please so we can talk more about it! *puppy eyes

  21. omo! omo! Koala sis! thanks for doing a first impression on MOnstar! i am SOOOO addicted to this baby right now. 🙂 I am Yi-Chan shipper all the way. they are just so good together. i love Seol Chan’s and Se Yi’s voices too. heck, i love everything about them.

    I also like Sun Woo but i have put him on another ship… WooNa Ship! i can feel there is something and there should be something between Sun Woo and Nana.

    You would make a lot of drama souls happy if you’d recap this baby. I just hate it that it’s once a week and only 12 episodes. Why do they do that to good dramas? lols.

  22. So far I like both, Cyrano and Monstar. So, whichever you’re choosing to recap will work for me.
    This one has good songs.

  23. I don’t know I’m not feeling the main male lead, he annoys me the same as the SG male lead annoyed me. But I like the female lead and 2nd male lead and I hope the former doesn’t loose the edge she has all in the name of falling in love.

  24. My crack drama… I get soo happy when people like it!!! *dances around the room” I have watch all 3 episodes an unhealthy amount of times. Yet I’m still a SeYi /SunWoo shipper.. I like Seol chan nothing makes me smile more then seeing him throw his lil jelous looks whenever SeYi is anywhere with SunWoo. Yet I feel that unless they make him grow up, he will not be a good match for her. Two broken people can’t fix each other… Sigh** I’m going to go watch episode 3 again…

  25. I LOVE YOU KOALA!!! I am so Seol Chan/ Seyi too!!!!
    Sun Woo is handsome but I am sick of cold princes! He’s too perfect, I love Seol Chan because there is something innocent about him, his personality is a WIN for me, I can’t wait to discover more deeply his wounds and his mom issue!
    LOVE HIM, LOVE THEM Seol Chan / Seyi

  26. I will wait until episode 6 (half of drama). If most of people still says this drama is good, I wanna try it!! Too many drama lately which is good until first half (episode 1-8), than turn out-of-sync in last part #cough*JOJ*TWTWB*cough#

  27. Omg yes this is my favorite drama of the year. It reminds me of What’s Up, SUFFB, Dream High and Answer Me 1997 all mixed into a magical wonderful drama. AS;LDKFJAL;FJ. I can’t decide who I ship yet, but LOL at “Seol Chan has the EQ of a sheep”.

  28. Alot of people dismissed Monstar as more of a fluff highschool drama, and many came in with preconceived notions considering the fact that there were certain idols and rookies. Perhaps Monstar would be another Dream High 2, or perhaps it would be another Dream High. I started watching when Monstar aired its first episode after gummimochi’s first recap on it and since then I remain addicted. I made a comment about Monstar being dream high and answer me 1997’s child — so I’m completely agreeing with you koala on your comparison. I don’t watch k-pop either, but what i did was that i youtubed some of the songs they sung and noticed that alot of the songs they chose were oldies! Which i totally appreciate. I also mentioned Monstar not being as flashy as dream high, all the while retaining the same heart as answer me 1997, which is why I think it might win me over more compared to dream high.
    Also, among their cast there are actual musical actors, like radio and 2nd lead(might get second lead syndrome).
    I fell in love with the heroine too, considering shes not your typical heroine. I love her deadpan attitude, her weirdness, even her awareness.
    Im really glad it made its official mention on Koalasplayground considering it’s really an underdog show that surprised me in best of ways amidst the time JOJ turned crazy. I knew that this was going to be a gem from the beginning, and im glad that more people will be tuning in because of your amazing first impressions, Koala.
    Sometimes all it takes is an honorable mention for a show this great to get on peoples radar.
    Perhaps its more beneficial to recap Monstar considering you’d be the only recapper for Monstar. I always appreciate you because you always recap the dramas i love the best. Even ones that no one really recaps.
    I know gummi is recapping Cyrano over at DB.

  29. Happy to hear you checked out Monstar Ms. Koala. I just love it. And I’m with you I’m team Well Chan/Seyi team. Thus far I like all the characters and find that the music just adds to the enjoyment of the show. I think this is a show that has been a very pleasant surprise for many. I know it was for me.

  30. Well, because Ms. K raves about Monstar (the title puzzles me a lot, too), I’m going to watch it. Now that All About My Romance has ended with a bang, and I’m still turned off at A Hundred Years’ Inheritance (I can’t make myself watch the last four episodes though I read all the funny posts on its thread religiously), I’m at a loss and so watching mostly old movies that SHK stars in and so I’m glad at least I can watch a current drama with Monstar. Hope you’ll decide to recap it. With Flower King, too, I read all your recaps, and I love Chris Wu, starting from Autumn Concerto, and then the one where he plays the second lead going blind but loses the girl with a birth mark on her face in the end. And his cameo appearance in Inborn Pair is also notable, though I love both Chrises in this drama, plus the lead actress. I think it’s time for Chris Wu to get the lead’s role pretty soon as I believe he carries the whole drama (FK), according to Ms. K and all the posters. I’ve turned off James Wen since The Fierce Wife.

  31. hallo miss Koala, am soooooo happy reading your positive thoughts about this drama 🙂 actually, am Beast’s fan but Junhyung is not my bias, so at first I was not too interest to this drama. But the 1st episode was so lovable for me and am hooked. Oh, and I was surprised too learning that junhyung who actually is a rapper can sing well 🙂
    thanks miss Koala, I hope you would continue to recap this one hehe

  32. Happy to hear you checked out Monstar Ms. Koala. I just love it. And I’m with you I’m team Well Chan/Seyi team. Thus far I like all the characters and what they bring to the storyline. I find that the music just adds to the enjoyment of the show. I think this is a show that has been a very pleasant surprise for many. I know it was for me.

  33. Heeee, Monstar is my new crack too. And like you said, this one is like Reply 1997 and Dream High mesh up with a lot of heart.

    For the OTP, I’m a fickle, jumping left and right for Se-yi Seol-chan and Se-yi Sun-wo

  34. I just watched Monstar based on your recommendations. Fully addicted as well. Heehee. Thank you Koala-sama for the introduction!! I love the OTP so much, especially their personalities. Her personality is so strange but I love it.

  35. Ohhh, Monstar is totally my crack too. I could shout its awesomeness from the rooftops!

    I love Se-yi, she’s just such a wonderful, refreshing character, I want more those in dramaland! Love the potential I’m seeing in all the characters, the leads as well as secondary ones like Radio or Nana.

    It’s Se-yi and Seol Chan for me too, they just make each other tick, even if that currently means blown fuses and all. Sun Woo is a little bit straight for me at the moment (though I’m certain he’s hiding something beneath his perfection – I’m guessing he has some connection to what happened to Se-yi in the past).

    I’m not a K-pop fan either, nor someone who like musical dramas/films all that much – but when they are well done, I love them. Like here – I’ve replayed Se-yi’s and Radio’s duet like a gazillion times already.

    • i agree, se yi is refreshing. i’ve seen enough blunt or cold female leads, but i like her fearlessness here, that doesn’t let others take advantage of her but not going beyond that to be offensive.

  36. yeah i love the vibe i’m getting from this. i was hooked on the 2nd episode, and now hooked on cyrano after its 4th episode. the production on this one is lovely.

    this reminds me more of dream high, between the one sided crush and giving a project to a group of underdogs. the show can feel quite predictable at times, so it’s a nice surprise when they bring out small twists (i.e, the sasaeng fan who seemed like the damsel in distress, until she sneaks out her devil horns, which is not too uncharacteristic of actual sasaeng fans).

    • i also like that it’s more of a musical, with characters breaking into song at times, just enough to divulge their inner feelings.

  37. Monstar is such a winner. Pulled the right string for me but its such a pain to wait 1 wk for each episode.

    I’m on super ship sheep girl and star boy too. I just wish we could see how sheep girl start to show interest in star boy. Now is still pretty one sided.

    Pls pls pls recap it!! 😀

    • Hehehe, “sheep girl + star boy”. Love it. We could even present that pictorially.

      Se-yi’s super-sensitive, so I think she’ll eventually catch on that star boy might have a big ego but is actually really lonely. I felt she already had a good sense of that in the first episode, when she watched the crazy fans and him in the car….

  38. Are you watching? *Yay* Are you recapping? *Swoon* Are you shipping SheepxSeYixStarSeolChan? I L.O.V.E U ~

  39. I like most of you are enjoying this show a lot, however unlike most of you I prefer the it once a week. Reason though it is addictive have approx. 5 dramas watching right now – Shark, Cruel City, I Summon You Gold, Last Cinderella j-drama (koala should check it out) and Monstar. All of which I enjoy and therefore this creates a overall balance.

    I like the leads but what I find most fascinating is Seol Chan’s funny imagination, its a trip and Se Yi’s response to him when he at times acts like a jerk who does not know how to respond to a girl he likes its funny. Also I like the gym teacher and homeroom teacher dynamics as well – he likes her and is so sneaky in how he helps her (which was getting the band together). Looking forward to Friday, let’s see whats up next.

  40. Oh goodie! You’ve discovered monstar! 😀 I got hooked since I checked out the first episode (around the time when the second episode had just aired). You’re totally right about it being the perfect package and it reminded me of dream high as well as making me miss Shut Up Flower Boy Band. I’ve just craved a good drama with music like those two I guess. And like several commentors have already mentioned, I’d like to add in my own recommendation for Shut Up Flower Boy Band! I’m quite sure that it’s up your alley so I hope you’ll get around to watching it. Although it’s grittier than dream high and monstar but it’s also what makes the show so compelling. Throw in tons of bromance and eyecandies as well as a very likable heroine and some tradegy (turning point in the drama) and you have the awesome, addicting package of Shut Up Flower Boy Band.

    Anyway, hope you’ll continue recapping Monstar!

  41. I’m obsessed with Seol Chan and Se Yi as well. Their chemistry are just simply explosive! I was wondering when you were going to recap this story and I’m glad that you loved it coz that is my feeling exactly. This is the drama that I am currently anticipating every week since there aren’t so many worth watching Korean drama lately!

  42. I have been following the drama since it aired and now with you recapping it, my drama-watching experience will surely be more fun ^^.

  43. wooot! im one of the few who asked you try this show and im glad you enjoyed it. i follow kpop and b2st is one of my favorites =) i hope you continue to enjoy the show!

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