“Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: So far so good… so far so good… so far so good. How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land!”

For some reason, watching the unbelievable shenanigans that transpired on screen made me think of the above quote from La Haine (1995) which resonated with me. This is a drama about housewives dressed to the nines in couture regalia with their hands in every pie, and when they are going down in flames, they are most worried about how they look.

Sky Castle follows the lives of 4 women living in the luxurious SKY Castle neighborhood. They try to make their husbands more successful and raise their children like princes and princesses; getting them into the top schools is their primary aim and they are willing to do anything to make sure it happens.

Han Seo-Jin (Yum Jung-Ah) is married to orthopedic surgeon Kang Joon-Sang (Jung Joon-Ho). They have two daughters. Han Seo-Jin seems to have a perfect life, but she has a secret.

Lee Soo-Im (Lee Tae-Ran) is a writer of children’s books. She holds a deep affection and consideration for people. Lee Soo-Im is married to neurosurgeon Hwang Chi-Young (Choi Won-Young). They have a son, Hwang Woo-Joo (Kang Chan-Hee).

No Seung-Hye (Yoon Se-Ah) is married to law school professor Cha Min-Hyuk (Kim Byung-Chul). Her husband talks about justice and happiness, but he hides a different side. One with having extreme egoism. They have two sons.

Jin Jin-Hee (Oh Na-Ra) comes from a wealthy family. Her father owns buildings. Jin Jin-Hee admires Han Seo-Jin and tries to copy what she does. Like Han Seo-Jin, Jin Jin-Hee is married to an orthopedic surgeon, Woo Yang-Woo (Jo Jae-Yun).

Han Seo Jin hires a coordinator Kim Joo Young (Kim Seo-Hyeong) to have her daughter Kang Ye Seo (Kim Hye-Yoon), a model student admitted to Seoul University Medical School. Following a tragic incident in the castle, the fates of the families are tangled and new revelations dawn.

IMDb’s synopsis asseverates Sky Castle as a satire, but I just couldn’t see this as a great one. For satire to work, it uses irony, humour and exaggeration to hold human nature up to criticism and scorn. A good satire pokes fun at the powers that be; sometimes creating a drive for social change. A successful satire has the uncanny ability to put you within the narrative; you laughed but you will realise you are laughing at yourself. Sky Castle wasn’t able to do that last bit. Yes, it does have gross exaggeration of human behaviour, ridiculous humour (only from episode 4 onwards) and some painful irony, but Sky Castle is almost vulgar in its portrayal of characters. It’s must-win-at-all-cause human behaviour dialled up to eleven with little art. However, it is prodigiously entertaining in the way it presents a menagerie of the most despicable behaviour of parents and the worst parenting techniques ever. The missus and my eyes were glued to the screen waiting to see how they would shoot themselves in the foot, and I got goosebumps watching the opening theme. The clever play with light and shadow on the actors’ faces showcases the best and worst of them.

Being in the education line, this Kdrama hits close to home. I see variations of this behaviour in parents who send their children to me, but thankfully most of these parents do not put impossible demands on their kids and me. They just want to give their children a step up in life. What is depicted on screen may be South Korea, but the pressure cooker atmosphere of education is also very real in my country.

The acting is fine wine here. All the women are delineated with each other and they are defined uniquely. Seo-Jin’s arc is well-drawn and you can feel her gradual realisation of what she has done to destroy her daughter’s life and also why she has to do what she did – lie. R.E.M. says Everybody Hurts, but I think it is even more correct to say everybody lies. You will not condone what she did, but you will understand why she did it.

I also like to watch Seung-Hye’s arc and she is the earliest one to realise she is wrong to stand by her husband who pushes their two sons to criminal levels. I love how Yoon Se-Ah plays her – always careful about what expression is written on her face and her rigid posture exudes a sense of guardedness. So when the heartbreak comes in one huge tidal wave, the facade falls down like bricks. Her interplay with her husband Cha Min-Hyuk reaches sublimity in the end as she finds her inner woman. It was a huge hurrah for womenfolk who had long hidden under their husbands’ long shadow. But my fave character is most definitely Professor Cha; Kim Byung-Chul plays him with such relish. The man gives Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs new meaning. For him, education is a battlefield and your job as a student is to not just be the best but to eviscerate all the competition. Seeing him get his comeuppance is one of the most satisfying feelings ever. There are many other outstanding actors here, and I should let you discover them on your own.

One of the missteps here is a sharp turn in the narrative from episode 16. While reading up, I realised due to the immense popularity of the drama the writer extended it by 4 episodes. It was essentially a whodunnit arc that I wouldn’t say is detrimental to the narrative, but I do feel that sharp turn that didn’t quite sit down well with the rest of the narrative. It felt like an odd change of pace.

Sky Castle has one huge plethora of toxic characters, but just because they are noxious doesn’t mean you can’t relate or love them. This is one of the cornerstones of great dramas and there is genius to be found here. Watching this is like having an intense argument with your loved ones; bridges are burned and no amount of time and effort can bring everything back to its original state. You will be immersed in the lives of these toxic individuals who are brought together by the need to succeed at all cause and you can’t help but put your own real-world problems into perspective. You may dislike them, but you can’t help but understand them. If the intense family soap opera could be framed, this would go very well on the walls of The Louvre.

I like what Woo-Joo said to his parents after going through the worst grinder ever and he realises education isn’t everything, it doesn’t define him. These following words spoken by him resonate with me…

“Power… doesn’t come from where I graduate from. Who I am, what kind of person I am and what I live for. When all that is clear, isn’t that where power comes from?”

4 / 5