The funny thing about Monstar is that it has nothing on the surface that would entice me to watch, and if I had heard rave reviews about it before watching I might end up underwhelmed. The critical sweet spot for this K-drama is simply that it’s quite good. What does that really mean, to be labeled simply “good”? Quite a lot these days, actually, because being good requires a balance of acting, directing, and writing that all rise above the tendency to relax to cruise control and actually put some heart into it. Monstar does that, even if it’s ultimately just a trifle that doesn’t aim higher than to broaden the exposure of some young stars and sell some music. Episode 1 nicely sets up the eclectic group that will form the central friendship and rivalry of this story – pushy idol Seol Chan, spacey but sensitive transfer student Se Yi, cold and dutiful class head Sun Woo, resident jackass Jae Rok and his lunky henchman Do Nam, bullied aspiring singer Kyu Dong, busy body Eun Ha, and bad-ass Kim Na Na.
I find the various kids dynamics compelling and interesting, especially when Seol Chan the idol transfer and Se Yi the sheep girl transfer throw the normal course of business at that school upside down. I adore Seol Chan but I can totally see his no-boundaries behavior with Se Yi pushing some viewers the wrong way. Unlike other asshole alpha males (for example Kim Joo Won in Secret Garden), Seol Chan gets some leeway from me because he’s still a kid and he’s really completely at the emotional mercy of Se Yi. So the power dynamic isn’t one with the power or money or fame, but one where the sincere communication of feelings through music breaks through so many of the artificially constructed barriers towards positive and healthy human interactions. This drama has so many deft touches around the edges that make me laugh even in tense moments or stop to think even in the middle of things happening. When a high school drama hits all the right notes, it’s a pleasure to bask in its adorable and addicting glory.
Episode 2 recap:
Seol Chan practices with his group Man in Black and afterwards while the other members get dressed for media events he reluctantly changes into a school uniform to head to school.
At school, Seol Chan asks Se Yi to be his partner and share the same table in class. Looks like he got rejected because class starts with Seol Chan sitting next to resident bad-ass Kim Na Na, who is her usual silent self.
After Teacher Dokko leaves, Na Na growls for Seol Chan to scram and cocky I-am-a-Star Chan quickly complies.
Seol Chan hustles over and sits next to Se Yi, while his being rejected by Na Na is captured on various kids cellphones and beamed all over the internet.
Se Yi tells him that she already told him no but Seol Chan has no choice and asks her to just go with it. Since they are both transfer students, Na Na likely also rejected Se Yi as well so they ought to have some sympathy for each other. Se Yi wonders how he knew she was a transfer and Seol Chan lies that he heard from the teacher.
Se Yi is still in a pique and gets up to sit next to Na Na, asking sweetly to sit with her. The kids all gasp that their idol oppa Seol Chan got rejected by a second seat mate! Another fresh round of Seol Chan gossip flashes over the internet.
Se Yi’s aegyo has no affect on Na Na and the next thing we see is Se Yi pouting and sitting next to Seol Chan again. Looks like someone got some hard knocks from Na Na.
Seol Chan and Se Yi finally get around to discussing how he has her phone and she launches into a loud diatribe about him taking it because she saw him kissing…….. Seol Chan slaps his hand over her mouth to shut her up and Se Yi pushes him off her and suddenly it looks like she hit everyone’s idol Seol Chan oppa.
Everyone is staring at this outburst so Seol Chan has no choice but to drag Se Yi out of class to go elsewhere to talk.
The Seol Chan fangirls chase them until the principal steps in and shoos them away, allowing Seol Chan to drag Se Yi to his van to talk inside. Manager Hong is shocked to see this and immediately the internet lights up with gossip that Seol Chan kidnapped his seat mate. LOL. Se Yi’s desk is immediately covered in graffiti with fangirls incensed that she yelled at their oppa.
Kyu Dong is called outside by Jae Rok and Do Nam proceeds to beat him up as a lesson for his disobedience in singing the song well.
Manager Hong lets the two kids talk. Se Yi thinks Seol Chan wants her to keep silent about the kiss but Seol Chan gets real close to her and says all she saw that day was this and there is nothing to hide about putting one’s face really close to another.
He really just wants to sit next to her because she doesn’t give a frack about him so that saves him the hassle of being harassed in class. She still refuses and he resorts to saying that as a star he never begs but he’s asking her nicely now. He gives Se Yi back her phone and she sticks with her rejection and leaves the van. Manager Hong thinks Se Yi is definitely an anti-fan.
Teacher Dokko comes to retrieve Se Yi and chastises Seol Chan and Manager Hong for causing a disturbance already.
Se Yi goes to the roof rather than walk back to class which is already in session again. She takes out her phone to listen to music and notices new songs loaded by Seol Chan, all of which are his songs. She notices a paper airplane land near her and on it is a drawn picture of a guy.
She notices Kyu Dong on the other roof and goes over to join him. He tries to hide what he’s doing but she asks if he’s drawing Jae Rok? Kyu Dong admits he’s drawing himself, and he really hates who he is. Se Yi shares her music with Kyu Dong and they listen to a Seol Chan song. They discuss Seol Chan and how as a star he must be loved by all. Se Yi isn’t quite sure since she’s seen Seol Chan getting harassed.
Seol Chan returns to class but Se Yi isn’t back yet. He gets a text to speak outside and he goes out to talk with Sun Woo, who got Seol Chan’s number from his mom. These two guys note that the other hasn’t changed much, one is still a brat and the other is still fake nice. Sun Woo asks Seol Chan about how he knows Se Yi but Seol Chan wonders why Sun Woo needs to know?
Seol Chan leaves and goes wandering around school looking for Se Yi. Dude, can you be a little subtle? Everyone is watching you.
Sun Woo goes back to class and sees Se Yi is back. She’s reading aloud the hateful graffiti written on her desk and Sun Woo slaps a folder over it to cover it up and change the subject.
They start talking about the upcoming class music performance evaluation which is when Seol Chan returns and is promptly all jealous to see Se Yi happily talking with Sun Woo.
Se Yi wonders what to do so Sun Woo suggests the guitar. He then takes Se Yi’s hand and caresses it, with everyone staring on and Seol Chan’s eye’s literally bulging with annoyance.
Seol Chan can tell from Se Yi’s hands that she plays the guitar quite often. Se Yi asks Sun Woo for help to prepare and they make plans to meet tonight at the park to practice, with poor Seol Chan right there as those two make a date in front of him.
Class president Joon Hee turns out the school’s request for prestigious music group All for One to perform at the charity event.
Se Yi and Eun Ha leave school together and Eun Ha muses over the usually cold Sun Woo being so friendly with Se Yi.
As Seol Chan is being driven home, the van stops at a light and a bus pulls up alongside with Se Yi sitting by the window. Seol Chan stares at her and she appears to be looking back at him, but he confirms that their windows are so tinted that no one can see inside. He wonders why it feels so one-sided, that he’s the only who can make the connction.
Se Yi is waiting for Sun Woo at the park but he gets called away by a distress text from his sister. He can’t reach Se Yi to let her know he’s not going to make it.
Seol Chan has the evening free so he starts having flashbacks to Sun Woo touching Se Yi’s hand today. He’s so upset by it he touches his own hand to see how close they got. LOL. He can’t help himself and heads to the park, the entire time wondering why he’s doing this.
Se Yi sees a father playing with his daughter and that gives her the mood to play a song. We see a strange guy in a trench coat staring at her and listening to her sing while Seol Chan has also arrived and listens to her sing a lovely ballad.
Trench coat guy walks towards Se Yi and she quickly tries to leave. When the guy tries to talk to her, Seol Chan steps in and warns him away, telling “the pervert” to go exercise rather than harassing girls in the park. He can feel Se Yi’s fear as she hand shakes and he gets even more upset at trench coat guy for harassing Se Yi. As Seol Chan drags Se Yi off the trench coat guy asks where Se Yi learned to play that song?
After safely getting away, Se Yi thanks Seol Chan and turns to leave when he huffs that he helped her back there whereas Sun Woo didn’t even show up. He quickly comes up with a request that she buy him some milk as thanks, and the next thing we see is that she takes him literally and they are sitting in a cafe drinking milk. So cute.
Se Yi is still thanking back to trench coat guy asking where she learned that song so Seol Chan has to chatter to get her attention. She takes a drink of milk and he snarks that she’s really watched too many K-dramas when he sees that she’s acquired a milk moustache.
He leans in to wipe it off her lips as if it was an imposition rather than he can’t wait to do it, but Se Yi just matter-of-factly licks it off.
Poor Seol Chan fantasizes that she’s licking her lips in a sultry fashion and he literally bolts upright from the steamy image.
Seol Chan quickly books it outside to get away from the object of his daydreams and Se Yi grabs their things and walks out. She hands him his sunglasses and asks if he’s not going to join her and Sun Woo in doing a joint performance evaluation.
Seol Chan wants to but has to be a tough guy about it, saying he can’t stand Sun Woo so why bother. Se Yi shrugs and just walks away with a bye, leaving Seol Chan literally stomping his little boy feet that she can’t walk away before him because he’s a star! Stars have to walk away first!
Se Yi goes home and along the way Sun Woo calls to apologize for standing her up. Sun Woo is standing outside her window and looks up at her, saying to herself that she still lives in the same place. Turns out Se Yi isn’t good at recognizing people, but clearly Sun Woo has a past history with her since he knows where she lives and has shown immediate interest in her.
In the following days, Se Yi and Sun Woo are practicing in the music room and all around the campus, much to the annoyance of Seol Chan. Finally he can’t stand it anymore and goes home to mix some music, bringing his laptop and synthesizer with him to join and make it a trio. He makes the excuse that his fans are upset he’s not actually doing school activities so he’s doing this reluctantly for his image.
Sun Woo and Se Yi aren’t sure Seol Chan’s music jibes with their more traditional guitar riffs but he plays a re-mix of “Trouble Maker” on his laptop which gets Sun Woo and Se Yi to slowly join in and the three of them have a harmonized jam that turns out very well.
After the song is done Sun Woo tries to make friendly with Seol Chan who responds in his usual snippy way.
As Se Yi is finishing up the practice, Jae Rok and Joon Hee and a first year student and all members of snooty All for One walk in and the girl immediately condescends to how Se Yi could be using their exclusive room. Se Yi could care less and finds this exclusivity air about them so immature. Se Yi’s blunt analogy is that different cuts of meat are all digested in the stomach and end up the same poop.
The girl is incensed that Se Yi compared them to poop which is when Seol Chan returns and agrees with Se Yi’s analogy. They are all poop, and he’s just Star Poop. Joon Hee tries to politely introduce himself to Seol Chan who ignores him.
Jae Rok is about to lose his temper when Sun Woo arrives and ends the confrontation.
Seol Chan walks out with Se Yi and wonders why she antagonized those snobs back there? Se Yi smiles a brilliant smile and says it was fun. Her first smile at Seol Chan takes him aback, but sadly Se Yi turns down his offer of a ride and leaves. Manager Hong can tell that his charge Seol Chan is smitten buy that girl but Seol Chan totally denies it.
It’s performance evaluation day and Seol Chan and Se Yi are sitting in class when she suddenly gets a text from her mom which she deletes. But it leads her to check her call log and she immediately blows her lid at Seol Chan for answering her mom’s call.
Her outburst immediately makes them the center of attention in class and Seol Chan has to drag her ass out again to talk privately. Normally it annoys me with all this dragging but Se Yi is seriously missing a timing and self-control button so desperate Seol Chan times call for desperate measures.
Seol Chan opens the van and shoves Se Yi in, and poor Manager Hong is like “What? What happened now? Why you two again? What’s going on this time?”
In his van, Seol Chan gets ripped for being arrogant and selfish, invading Se Yi’s privacy by checking out her phone and uploading his songs and answering her calls. She calls him out for doing whatever he wants. Se Yi storms off leaving Seol Chan stewing in the van.
Things go from bad to worse when Seol Chan hears from Manager Hong that the company president has moved him out of the dorm and back with his family to keep rehabbing his image. He gets upset at others doing whatever they want to him, and then realizes it’s like the pot calling the kettle black. Seol Chan sulks off to the company building roof to brood.
Se Yi and Sun Woo are sitting in the music evaluations as everyone gets a turn. Teacher Dokko puts them last to give Seol Chan time to arrive. Se Yi apologizes to Sun Woo, assuming Seol Chan isn’t coming.
After Joon Hee’s performance, Teacher Dokko chases him down to beg All for One to do the charity event but he still refuses. Teacher Choi comes by and tells her to stop being so subservient and Teacher Dokko finally has enough and unleashes her ire on Teacher Choi, which makes him happy to see feisty her again.
Seol Chan remembers Se Yi’s little smile after she puts the All for One folks in their place and he contemplates making the first move to call her. Which is when Seol Chan gets a text from Se Yi with a simple “I’m sorry.”
That’s enough for him (he bolts upright like he was zapped by lightning) and he goes rushing back to school. We see Se Yi outsides strolling the halls and waiting for Seol Chan to call or arrive.
It’s Se Yi and Sun Woo’s turn and without Seol Chan they have to quickly scramble for a new performance. Se Yi plays her guitar and Sun Woo does the cello and they play the duet from the drama Bichunmoo.
Seol Chan arrives once the performance has started and he stands there panting from all the running and stares in growing frustration as Se Yi and Sun Woo harmonize without him.
In his fantasy they aren’t wearing school uniforms, Se Yi is in a red strapless dress and Sun Woo in a suit and they are trading loving glances as they perform.
The performance finishes to the sound of rousing applause from the audience, minus one very very angry Seol Chan.