First Impressions: “Angry Mom”

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I was familiar with the premise of MBC’s new drama “Angry Mom” before I watched the first two episodes—honestly, the premise was what made me want to watch “Angry Mom.” Kim Hee Sun as a young mother who goes undercover as a high school student to protect her daughter (Kim Yoo Jung) from bullies? Sign me up! It’s an outlandish concept, to be sure, but it sounded wonderfully fun, with the added dark theme of bullying to keep the story grounded and emotionally resonant.

Now that I’ve watched the first two episodes of “Angry Mom,” however, I’m not quite sure what to think. There’s some very strong material in these first two episodes, but there’s also a lot of (boring) filler material. The tone is also all over the place, which makes the viewing experience quite confusing—am I watching a dark, serious drama, a dull corporate drama, or a farcical comedy? I don’t know, and I don’t think “Angry Mom” knows either, which is a problem.

But let’s start with the good! Our trio of main characters is just fantastic. Kim Hee Sun as our heroine, Jo Kang Ja, is a lot of fun to watch, especially as her character has so many different sides to portray—short-tempered ajumma, loving mother, high school student (in flashbacks), undercover high school student… I’m not sure if all of this material has gelled into a coherent character quite yet, but it’s not for a lack of trying on Kim Hee Sun’s part. Her performance is so entertainingly brash and bold that I’m happily willing to give the drama time to flesh out Kang Ja’s already-disturbing backstory.

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Ji Hyun Woo is beyond adorable as our male lead, the innocent, idealistic, somewhat naïve teacher Park No Ah. He hasn’t had as much screentime yet, but I’m eager to get to know Noh Ah better. His genuine belief that he can make the world a better place through teaching, combined with his complete inability to command respect in the classroom, is just so pathetic and endearing.

Kim Yoo Jung is also doing excellent work as Kang Ja’s bullied daughter, Oh Ah Ran. I love the detail that Ah Ran is being bullied because of her insistence on being a loyal friend to the school outcast, Jin Yi Kyung (Yoon Ye Joo). It shows that in her own way, Ah Ran is just as bold as her mother—even knowing that associating with Yi Kyung will make her a target of the school bullies (one of the main tormentors is played by After School’s Lizzy), Ah Ran doesn’t back down. She cares about Yi Kyung, and won’t abandon her friend just to save her own skin (I think my heart broke when it’s revealed that Yi Kyung is saved on Ah Ran’s phone as “my beautiful friend Yi Kyung”).

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The bullying itself is appropriately harrowing. Though it’s implied that there’s a specific reason that Yi Kyung has been targeted (more on that later!), most of what we see is just kids being horribly terrifying, constantly mocking the girls’ appearances, insulting them, pushing them around, and accusing them of being a couple. What makes those scenes so tough to watch is how believable they feel. I have no trouble imagining high schoolers acting like this—and the indifference Kang Ja encounters when she goes to a teacher to report the bullying also feels credible.

So far, so good. But whenever there were scenes dealing with the corrupt foundation that runs the school, “Angry Mom” just screeched to a halt. Though the school material and the foundation material are technically linked through several characters—the chairman’s son, Hong Sang Tae (B1A4’s Baro), a mysterious and violent student named Go Bok Dong (Jisoo), and the administrator Do Jung Woo (Kim Tae Hoon)—none of those characters are developed enough yet to make any of the foundation material interesting. To be fair, that could change with time and character development. But in these first episodes, I couldn’t help wondering what a corporate corruption plotline was doing in the middle of a bullying drama.

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Of course, there is also the implication that Yi Kyung’s bullying is somehow connected to the Myung Sung Foundation, though we don’t yet know exactly how or why. Honestly, this is the aspect of “Angry Mom” I liked the least. To me, making Yi Kyung’s bullying part of some adult business-related conspiracy undermines the very premise of taking on bullying. Most school bullying doesn’t happen because a student got caught up in adult machinations. Bullying generally happens for much simpler reasons—because one child is different, or smarter, or stupider, or poorer, etc. I don’t need a conspiracy to make what Yi Kyung and Ah Ran endure terrible to watch. It’s already terrible, and the conspiracy angle takes away from that power, because it takes a story about bullying and makes it about something else.

To be clear, I’m not writing off “Angry Mom.” I absolutely plan to continue watching. I’m very intrigued to see how the story develops, and I dearly hope that the tone becomes more grounded and balanced in the future (less conspiracy material would be great, and I also wouldn’t object to never seeing any pigtailed gangsters again!).

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Did you watch the first episodes of “Angry Mom”? What did you think of them? Let us know in the comments below!