Susin High School, nicknamed "Prison High," is an elite boarding school attended by the top 1% of students in the country. Their stellar marks are the result of constant pressure and a strict punishment system, to the point where students avoid from any activities outside of studying and even study on weekends. Furthermore, their only vacation days are the 8 days from Christmas Eve to the first day of the New Year. During this time, the students and faculty leave the school and the school becomes empty.
However, seven students decided to remain at school on winter break after receiving an anonymous letters stating that someone will die. To accompany them, a teacher is forced to remain at school with them. But on their first night, a psychologist called Kim Yo Han joins them after being involved in a car accident nearby. In addition, because of the snowstorm , the roads are closed and he is forced to spend the winter holiday with them. However, at a time when everyone else is celebrating Christmas Eve, the students realize that the anonymous letters they each received was not the result of a harmless prank; and there is a murderer in their midst.
Cast & Credits
First, I will say that if you like Kdramas, this one is absolutely unique in the entire genre. I've seen over 100 and nothing even seems to have been made on the same planet as this. So it definitely has the uniqueness factor - check.
Secondly, because it was a special rather than a full drama, it has a nice short run time of only 8 episodes, so it is great for those with ADHD or who like Kdramas but not the fact that they tend to be so long. Actually, my only real complaint about this drama is that there isn't more of it!
Of course, the first two positive things I've said about this drama are just shallow fluff and not really the reasons I called it a masterpiece. But they are good reasons that I think this is the ultimate drama for introducing noobs to Kdramas (particularly American noobs as those are the kind I know best).
But now on to the real meat of the matter -- why is this a masterpiece, and not just a Korean masterpiece, but possibly a masterpiece of television, period?
1. VISUALS! Did I say visuals? Oh, and visuals. This is one of the most singularly beautiful (and eerie) things I've ever watched. The PD is Kim Yong Soo and going foward I will watch anything he directs (he directed Equator Man, which while it has its plot flaws, no one can deny its cinematography is stunning). Every camera shot is perfectly framed for maximum visual and emotional impact. At times it felt more like watching a series of paintings or artistic photographs pass by rather than film. The visual harmony between the stark modern architecture, the snow, the shadows and even the physical characteristics of the actors themselves and how they are framed in each and every shot demonstrates tremendous forethought and superior aesthetic awareness. I could have watched this drama with the sound and subs off and still enjoyed it; that's how beautiful it is.
2. Acting. Considering the youth of this cast, the acting was quite good, and this drama could not have been pulled off without their sublime efforts because the claustrophobic, character-driven nature of this drama requires great acting. I read on Dramabeans that when the kids were cast that the writer cared more about physical type (because the visuals and theme were that important to her) than acting ability and that most of the actors were considered relatively inexperienced at the time; although, we know most of them very well now (Woo Bin and Sung Joon, for example). I found this revelation startling in light of the brilliance of their acting in White Christmas.
3. Music. Much like the visuals, the music was also all perfectly thought out at every moment to achieve maximum emotional effect. And for we English speakers, there is deft use of some popular tunes like AC/DC's Back in Black, Arcade Fire's Wake Up and Massive Attack's Teardrop (aka the theme song from House), just to name a few. This actually is my favorite soundtrack of any Kdrama I've seen because much of the music was recognizable and that just added to the overall impact of how well it was used to increase the emotional impact of the scenes and theme, rather than just as background music like so many soundtracks. The soundtrack in this drama practically takes on a life of its own and White Christmas would not be the same without it.
4. Theme & Writing. No bones about it, this is a DARK drama and not for the faint of heart. But once again, what makes it great is that it is not dark in the usual twisted crazy parent, birth secret, killing for money, insane makjang way of most dark Kdramas. This is dark because of the theme and the theme is a very simple and universal one relatable to anyone anywhere (that I am not going to go into here because I don't want to give anything away). Much like with the visuals and the music, the writing was also very focused in this drama, without any of the meandering, unfocused, repetitiveness that plagues the live shoot portion of so many Kdramas. Sure it was only 8 episodes, but every scene, every word, of those 8 episodes was perfectly thought out to elucidate the main theme with nothing extraneous and nothing left out either. EXCEPT....
There was one flaw in this otherwise perfect drama and it's a pretty major plot hole that occurs in the last episode that sent my bulls*** radar pinging. And despite my great love of this drama I refuse to let the writer off. If you've seen it, you probably know what I mean. However, I understand why the writer had to do what she did for the overall structure and theme of the drama, and, therefore, I forgive her. Because, in the wake of this glorious tour de force, I am willing to let a little final-hour-what-the-f**ckery slide.
In summation, watch this drama! You will NOT be disappointed. And if by same crazy miracle you are, there is a scene in episode 6 where all the guys take their shirts off, so hold on until there at least!