Monstar or Monseuta or 몬스타 (2013)
Monstar or Monseuta or 몬스타 (2013) is a Korean take on the Glee phenomenon. At this point, I’ll choose my words carefully. The American series has completed five seasons and has broadcast 105 episodes. It has contrived to win awards while proving itself a vehicle for selling a significant amount of music product. Almost exclusively, the show deals with cover versions of established hits. This makes it relatively cheap to license the rights to the music, and provides a profitable way of recycling old material. In this, the series is proving more successful than Ally McBeal which had Calista Flockhart sing a wide range of cover versions, often with guest artists in tow. Back to Monstar. No matter what you might think about the national effort put into producing the K-pop wave, one fact is indisputable. Some of the groups and the original music they perform is outstanding and the international success of individual tracks and some performing artists is well deserved.
This series balances the music against the context. Both end up outstanding! It’s set in a Korean secondary school with the cohort aged in the seventeen/eighteen range. As is to be expected of a Korean series, the atmosphere inside the school reflects the high priority society places on educational achievement. But there’s one less common feature — Korean schools do not place quite this emphasis on more lighthearted music as a regular feature of scholastic life. Initially, as might be expected, the school encourages those of its students with a talent to perform, the best of whom are in an orchestra which largely plays classical music (some of it light). This group calls itself All For One. However, the focus of interest shifts with the arrival of two very different students.
Yoon Seol-chan (Yong Jun-hyung who is a member of a very successful Korean boy band) is a member of a boy band with a fanatical following. He’s the stereotypical angry young man, burdened by an unhappy childhood and an excess of talent, he lives on the knife edge of exploding in public. Unfortunately, he’s caught on camera pushing one of his psycho fans. When this goes viral, his record company decides to rehabilitate his image by sending him back to school for a while. The second arrival is Min Se-yi (Ha Yeon-soo). She was born in South Korea but has been in New Zealand for the last six years. Leaving her mother behind, she comes bearing her guitar and a sack o’ woe. This brings both of them into a class where the senior monitor is Jung Sun-woo (Kang Ha-neul). He’s currently a member of All For One but knew Min Se-yi before she left the country and has a crush on her. This leads him to abandon All For One and to sing with her. This upsets Kim Na-Na (Da Hee) who’s had a long-running crush on Jung. She’s the daughter of a local gangster and socially inhibited because Jung comes from a wealthy family. The other young musicians are Sim Eun-Ha (Kim Min-Young) who’s abused by her father and has very low self-esteem, Park Kyu-Dong (Kang Ui-Sik) who’s relentlessly bullied by his class, and Cha Do-Nam (Park Kyu-Sun) who used to be friends with Park but had a falling out with him.
The catalyst for the story to click into motion is a visit to one of the historical sites around Seoul. By mistake, this disparate group are accused of defiling one of the palaces. As a “punishment”, they are told they must perform a traditional Korean song for the school. Although the school realises the error some days later, the Head of Department does not want to lose face and tells the staff they are to proceed with the performance. This forces the individual students to relate to each other and begin to work out their problems. In due course, the nature of the performance is modified. The Minister of Culture asks the school to send a group to sing at a charitable event. When Yoon Seol-chan hears All For One is to be sent, he issues a challenge. The two groups should have a competition to decide which is the better group to represent the school.
The other major character is Han Ji-woong (Ahn Nae-sang). He’s a recluse who allows the young musicians to use his old rehearsal room. When the sing-off occurs, All For One is deemed to have won but, of course, our disparate group must be given a rematch which comes when a television company picks them for a Battle of the Bands show. In a way, it doesn’t matter which group wins. Music wins. We see almost all the major styles from a classical piano concerto, to Latin American, to heavy metal. When it comes to the original music, the standard is universally high with some impressive musicianship in the playing and the singing. As to the plot, some of the backstory is quite dark and the characters are given the time and space to work through their emotions. The other issue (this being a romantic drama) is to see which of the group pair off. With the usual alarums and excursions, this is also resolved not unsatisfactorily. The adults are also allowed their own opportunities to find some measure of redemption for past mistakes. This is not to say everything is neatly tied up with suitable rejoicing. This is a Korean drama and not everything emotional can be healed so quickly. But there’s enough to know these people have made progress. They will survive.
So if you get the chance to see this, Monstar is genuinely impressive as both television drama and as a vehicle for music.