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Itaewon Class: JTBC K-Drama shows support for LGBTQ and POC groups through unique characters played by Lee Joo-Young and Chris Lyon

Itaewon Class cast picture
Itaewon Class features a unique ensemble cast led by Park Seo-Joon and Kim Da-Mi. In this promotional picture, all the actors associated with DanBam are pictured. Pic credit: Joongang Tongyang Broadcasting Corporation (JTBC), graphically designed by War Omega

Itaewon Class is only six episodes in and it is already proving to be one of the more popular series worth watching during the late winter season of K-dramas. Starring Park Seo-Joon, Kim Da-Mi, Yoo Jae-Myung, and Nara, Itaewon Class is equal parts coming-of-age, slice-of-life, and revenge story set in the amazing backdrop of the beautiful area the K-drama is named after.

However, it is probably the fact that Itaewon Class is so diverse and unique it is getting plenty of attention. This is especially true with the characters. Not only are they interesting, but they are actually pushing the social norms set in Korea.

In this case, the Joongang Tongyang Broadcasting Company (JTBC) K-drama seems to be showing support for the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transexual/Queer group and People of Color groups. Lee Joo-Young is playing a transgender woman and Chris Lyon is playing a Korean Black man.

Ma Hyeon-Yi’s secret is exposed

Viewers learned that Ma Hyeon-Yi (Lee Joo-Young) is transgender when Jo Yi-Seo (Kim Da-Mi) and Jang Geun-Soo (Kim Dong-Hee) show  Choi Seung-Kwon (Ryu Kyung-Soo) how to party in Itaewon.

Prior to hitting up a club, Yi-Seo and Geun-Soo show Seung-Kwon how to “get close to a girl” in a dance club. When Seung-Kwon thinks he is ready, the three go to a dance club.

At the club, Choi Seung-Kwon uses his new moves to score with a girl. When he sees a girl in a black dress accentuating her curves, he moves in to use what he learned. As he continues to dance with the girl, it seems she is into him.

When she turns around, her demeanor changes as she recognizes Seung-Kwon. Seung-Kwon doesn’t get the hint until he really looks closes realizing the girl he was hitting on was Ma Hyeon-Yi.

Itaewon Class: Choi Seung-Kwon with Ma Hyeon-Yi
Choi Seung-Kwon (Ryu Kyung-Soo) looks back to Jang Geun-Soo (Kim Dong-Hee) and Jo Yi-Seo (Kim Da-Mi) when he realizes he’s been dancing with Ma Hyeon-Yi (Lee Joo-Young). Pic credit: Netflix

Choi Seung-Kwon looks back to Jo Yi-Seo and Jang Geun-Soo who also show surprise when they realize the girl is Ma Hyeon-Yi.

While sitting at their table, Jo Yi-Seo, Jang Geun-Soo, and Choi Seung-Kwon learn that Ma Hyeon-Yi is transgender. Though she looks like a girl on the outside, she still hasn’t gone through gender reassignment surgery.

Ma Hyeon-Yi working in DanBan
This is how Ma Hyeon-Yi looks like whenever he — in which he goes by this pronoun at work — is at DanBan or just out and about. Pic credit: Netflix

Nevertheless, Jo Yi-Seo, Jang Geun-Soo, and Choi Seung-Kwon are still surprised as they only see Ma Hyeon-Yi as they see her (or him when it comes to working at DanBan) as a man. It should also be noted that Geun-Soo and Seung-Kwon show discomfort pertaining to the matter.

A Black Korean applies for DanBan

Viewers saw a show of support for POC in the sixth episode of Itaewon Class. With Park Sae-Royi’s (Par Seo-Joon) restaurant DanBan doing very well thanks to Jo Yi-Seo along with his plans to franchise, Yi-Seo makes it known DanBan needs more staff.

Along with Park Sae-Royi, Jo Yi-Seo interview potential candidates to fill in the positions for server and cook. That is when Kim Tony (Chris Lyon) appears. Assuming that Tony is coming in as a guest, Sae-Royi and Yi-Seo try to explain DanBan is not open yet.

Kim Tony in Itaewon Class
Kim Tony (Chris Lyon) applies for a job as a server in DanBan. Pic credit: Netlix

In English, Kim Tony lets Park Sae-Royi and Jo Yi-Seo he is there for an interview. Yi-Seo than speaks in English that they don’t usually speak English in their bar in which Tony speaks in Korean, “That’s okay. I am Korean.”

Take note that Kim Tony’s answer is very important. Almost 100 percent of the time in Korea or any Asian country for that matter, anyone who doesn’t look like the indigenous population must be a foreigner.

For most Koreans especially the older generations, the fact there are Black people born in Korea is surprising. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t have to be Black. It could also be White too.

Park Sae-Royi represents understanding

To international viewers, especially those living in the United States, Itaewon Class representing a transgender and POC seem like a step up in social acceptance. However, it is much more in Korea.

It should actually be noted that everyone who is employed by Park Sae-Royi in DanBan is a certain type of person that is often looked down up or considered taboo in Korea.

Jo Yi-Seo is a sociopath who has no initial drive for academics or respect for the age class system. Jang Geun-Soo is an illegitimate child born out of wedlock. Choi Seung-Kwon is a gang member who has done time in prison. And we know who Ma Hyeon-Yi and Kim Tony are.

Park Sae-Royi did not have those things about his staff affect his relationship, professional or personal, with them. With some, he did show surprise such as when he found out Ma Hyeon-Yi is transgender or Kim Tony is Korean, but he did not have the situation alter his relationship with them.

Park Sae-Royi still considered Hyeon-Yi a good and close friend and he treated Tony with the same manner of professionalism as he would with any Korean person when he hired him.

Ultimately, the motley crew Park Sae-Royi has created has plenty of potential for the story, especially when it comes to the relationship Ma Hyeon-Yi and Choi Seung-Kwon have. But for now, their representation will be seen positively among those who can relate to their situations.

Itaewon Class airs on Fridays and Saturdays at 11 p.m. KST on JTBC. For international viewers, the K-drama is available in all regions through Netflix. Please take note international viewers will need a paid subscription to the video streaming site to watch the K-drama.

War Omega is an entertainment news writer and painter more

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