“SKY Castle” is part of the next wave of iconic Korean dramas to enamor the international community. It is now officially the highest rated cable drama in Korean broadcasting history. It took over “Goblin”’s, another K-drama, record which they held with 18%.“SKY Castle” broke this record with 23.77% in average viewership ratings with its last episode (episode 20).
The drama follows four wealthy families living in a secluded complex called SKY Castle. All of the families pour their resources, wealth, and time into their children’s education, often going to extreme lengths to give their children an edge in the Korean education system. The show begins with one household, who come to be known as the Park family, in the midst of an ecstatic celebration when their only son gets accepted into Seoul National University’s medical school. Soon after, however, the Park family’s wife commits suicide, her son is nowhere to be found, and her husband quits his job. The rest of the drama follows the families’ reactions and their approach to their children’s education.
Although the drama has all of the elements of a murder mystery, it is ultimately a commentary on Korea’s hyper-competitive education system. In the show, as the children strive to be the best in their respective schools, the parents push them to their limits with the full weight of their wealth behind them. Often, the pressure pushes the characters to relieve stress through drug use and petty crimes while it causes others to develop suicidal thoughts or spiral into depression.
Of the four households, for instance, we mainly focus on the Kang family, consisting of mother Han Seo-jin (Yeom Jung-ah), father Kang Joon-sang (Jung Jun-ho), eldest daughter Ye-seo (Kim Hye-yoon), and youngest daughter Ye-bin (Lee Ji-won). By the end of the show, we see Ye-seo develop high levels of anxiety and sleep-deprivation as she pushes herself to get into a good medical school.
At the Cha household, we have mother Noh Seung-hye (Yoon Se-ah), father Cha Min-hyuk (Kim Byung-chul), eldest daughter Se-ri (Park Yoo-na), and twin sons Seo-joon (Kim Dong-hee) and Ki-joon (Jo Byung-kyu). With Se-ri studying abroad at Harvard, former prosecutor Min-hyuk now spends his time tutoring his sons. With pressure from their father’s extreme teaching style, the two children are often in fits of stress which even causes their parent’s divorce.
Overall, “SKY Castle” is a show that effectively critiques Korea’s educational system with much success. The most chilling part of the drama, however, is that many of its stories and plotlines are not exaggerations. The South Korean Health and Welfare Ministry estimates that 90% of people who committed suicide in 2016 had a diagnosable psychiatric illness, such as depression or anxiety, conditions often caused by stress. According to the University of California Berkeley Political review, that stress is often induced by competitive schooling environments and low hiring rates that only help a few get to the top.
In this current condition, “SKY Castle” sheds light on a growing problem and will hopefully influence many to change their outlook on education and mental health.