“The Queen’s Class Room” vs. Jyoou no Kyoushitsu: Seeing double drama with Kdrama and JDrama

Hello, I am a Korean in America. This is a multipart series of comparing Korean adaptations of Japanese Drama series and vice versa. For part 1, I'll go over the 2 versions of “The Queen’s Class Room”

#TheQueensClassRoom vs #JyoouNoKyoushitsu

For about a decade or so, there has been a lot of interaction between the Korean and Japanese entertainment worlds. Being neighboring counties, this itself should not be surprising. However, with the volatile history between the two countries, the interactions were conducted underground hidden from the gaze of mainstream culture. The interaction itself was also more one sided with a serious imbalance in cultural sophistication leaning towards Japan. In other words, we, Korean, copied and plagiarized the hell out of Japanese culture.

Video version
This started to change around the end of the millennium. The cultural interaction between the two countries rose out of the shadows and saw the light of the day. For Koreans, this was result of the rising confidence in their own culture and its output. And to a degree, it was true. Korean culture had become sophisticated enough to not suffocate in the light. The outwards evidence of this was the whole “Korean Wave” phenomenon.

However, this did not mean that Korean culture could compete on an equal footing in most areas with Japan. The inherent weakness in Korean culture is the fact that it tends to have a narrow focus and does not encourage diversity. Thus, the creative foundation in Korea is rather weak.

Here, I would like to focus on writing in TV drama series. Whether you prefer K-dramas or J-dramas, you cannot deny that there is much more diversity in the creative writing with J-dramas which result in more diverse shows. Some of this could be contributed to the manga market in Japan which tends to be the source material for many shows. The manga market in japan is huge which very diverse niche markets. As a result, there are many writers with vastly different creative visions and approaches.

As a result this imbalance, it has become common for Korean shows to be straight adaptations of successful J-dramas. A similar phenomenon would be the relationship between British and American television. However, what is different is that K-drama adaptations tend to be more like localizations compared to what America does with its adaptations. The K-drama adaptations not only use the concept of the J-dramas but also the basic look, and even the scripts. Other than some localization and padding to adjust for the longer K-drama runs, they stay truthful towards the source material.

As with any attempt of truthful adaptation, the attempt is not always successful in capturing the core of the source material.

The J-drama Jyoou no Kyoushitsu
The original "Jyoou no Kyoushitsu" or “The Queen’s Class Room” is a J-drama came out during 2005 and was the real launching point for Yūki Amami who was mostly a theater actress. The story of the show is, at its core, a story about a year-long psychological and behavioral adjustment program run targeting a class of 6 graders by a mysterious  new female teacher who is always dressed in black from head to toe. The story is revealed through the perspective of the students with the main protagonist being a female student played by Mirai Shida.

If you think that the story is rather spooky and odd, you would be right. It is not a coincidence that the students call their teacher the witch. There is a strong Gothic feel to the show with how the teacher “Maya Akutsu” is presented and feel of claustrophobia and oppression felt by the students. It also helps that the use of the students’ perspective creates a world of a smaller scope amplifying this Gothic feel whenever “Maya Akutsu” is on screen.

The K-drama remake The Queen’s Class Room
The Korean adaptation (2013) is almost a straight adaptation with most of the script being the same. However, by expanding the original 11 episode series in to a more traditional 16 episode K-drama, a significant degree of padding is introduced. 

As a result, stories about the intrigue between the students’ parents and the inner working of the teachers in the school have been added as padding.  In general, these stories do not contribute to the overall plot and are generic K-drama plot lines. Not only does this create drag on the overall pacing, it also changes the fundamental core of the original series.

The Theme of the J-drama Jyoou no Kyoushitsu
The original theme of series is a criticism of Japanese society. Characteristics of modern Japanese society such group think, faceless violence, the over dependence on societal norms are bared naked and materialized in front of the 6 graders by the teacher “Maya Akutsu”. Once these characteristics which are typically hidden subtly under the veil of society is presented to the 6 graders, the student characters and the audience as an extension the characters are challenged to break away from those type of thought and behavior and become an independent, autonomous, active member of society who love other members in the society and is willing to act to improve it.

The setting of the story is one of the main tools that enable the audience and the characters to go through the process. The scope of an adult’s world is huge. In contrast, a 6th grader’s world has a narrow scope. As the audience looks through the perspective of the 6th graders, we, the audience, are absorbed into this world. Thus, by setting it in a younger setting, the series is able to make the concepts simple enough without over-simplifying them. In addition, the scope of the 6th graders’ world makes it easier to create a sense of isolation from the external social structures whether they are positive or negative. For the children and the audience, it is only possible to face the problems of their small society when they are isolated from external social structures which include help. Thus, in the original Japanese series, the teacher “Maya Akutsu” isolates the students from their parents who are part of the problem in the beginning. Thus, through the series, the class room is the only real world and the students are trapped there facing the teacher “Maya Akutsu” who is the personification of the society. The student is forced to confront her and there is not help coming.

The lack of thematic focus in the K-drama adaptation
With the new additions of the K-drama adaptation, this sense of isolation is broken. The parents and teachers are always there. So, there is a possibility of them coming into the situation although the students are hesitant to use them because there are difficult to use and the teacher is blackmailing them. Also, in the original series,  the teacher “Maya Akutsu” is a mysterious entity that the students view as an immovable object in space and time. She is all knowing with a wide reach. This makes the students’ perception of the teacher’s action to be more sinister and dangerous than the actual scenarios, she is putting in play, are.   This forces the students to dig deep into who there are. All this weakens the effectiveness of the series’ setup as the students and we, the audience, have an out and thus are not forced to push ourselves.  

In some manner, this difference is a representation of the difference between the Japanese and Korean societies. The breakup of the nuclear family is a serious issue in Japan which leaves children feeling alone and isolated. In contrast, Korea has not progressed in that direction as much as Japan. Rather, the over-meddling of parents is still a strong issue. Thus, in a Korean society, the setup of the series is less believable.

Another thing that differentiates the two series are how the teacher “Maya Akutsu is portrayed. In the Japanese version, she is portrayed by Yūki Amami who is fantastic. Her portrayal creates this mystical dark, cold, and beautiful unnatural character who dresses like a something out of a modern gothic novel and does not change her outfit other than for gym class.  This makes her presence more formidable to the students.  Another curious effect of this portrayal is that it prevents the students from actually hating her. Unlike the adults the children know, she is something more. She is dark deity, a force of nature who is pure in her own way and not corrupt like the other adults the children know.

In contrast, the Korean adaptation has Ko Hyun Jung portray the character. Her portrayal is much more toned down and less theatrical  It could be said to be more realistic. However, this goes in contrast with the illusion that the series’ setup requires as this situation is not believable in the real world since a project like this would have too many variables for a single teacher to control. In addition, her interaction with the students emphases control rather than confrontation. The fact that Yūki Amami’ character constantly says “open your eyes!” to the students while Ko Hyun Jung’s character does not in any similar frequency supports this evaluation. As a result, when comparing Yūki Amami and Ko Hyun Jung, I never once felt that Yūki Amami’s teacher character was mean or petty. This is not true for the Ko Hyun Jung’s teacher character.  Overall, I do feel like Yūki Amami did a much better job proving that emoting being cold and other worldly is not the same not emoting to any visible degree.  

After thoughts
In conclusion, the Korean adaptation is a surface level adaptation that does not understand the point of the original source material and tries to fit it into a traditional K-drama format. It tries to bring a material that only works in a hyper-reality and brings it crashing down to earth. While the Korean version is not terrible, I would recommend going with the original Japanese version (2005) as the Korean adaptation does not bring anything new and is of much less quality.

Streaming Link For Japanese VersionGood Drama Net
Streaming Link For Korean Version: Good Drama Net

Seeing double drama with Korean and Japanese TV Series: 

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  1. Yeah... I Agree With You,,, I Have Watched it, The Original Is Better.. and very much that can be learned.. Recommend

    1. Thanks for the reply!
      J-Drama can really to hyper-reality better than Korea although the shows coming out recently is not as good.
      Thinking of doing the man that could not marry next.

  2. I loooved the original. After I watched it years ago, I kept following Shida Mirai's acting career, since I've been so impressed by her performance.
    Having said that, I can't say I disliked the Korean version of the Queen's Classroom. Yes, it was not as electrifying, thought-provoking or as satisfying as the original series, but I still think Go Hyung Jung's portrayal was believable... to a certain extent. I do agree with you though, on the fact that the eerie feeling one could get while watching the J-drama was definitely missing... then again, the Koreans are still new in this area. (As a matter of fact, GHOSTS are getting popular in K-drama land nowadays lool)
    What did you think of the kids' performance? In my opinion, both Japanese and Korean actors did well considering the script they were given. I just hope the new guys were more natural (less crying, more feeling, if you know what I mean).
    Anyway, thanks for the article. Truly appreciated! :-)

  3. A Korean in AmericaOctober 17, 2013 at 3:23 AM

    The kids seem above average for kid actors! Compared to the kids is in "Her legend" their gods of acting. However, the actors seem more adult than actual kids sometimes.

    Go Hyung Jung's acting style does not work well with this type of character. However, I never really liked her in her several works.

    And she was bloated through out the series. I heard she usually is over weighted but trims down for a role and failed to do so in time. You can see that her face feels like she has some FX make up on...

  4. You did a spectacular job on your essay. I also watched both versions and enjoyed them both. Having spent many years in Japan I was able to identify with the J version a but more and it certainly is a critique of Japanese society and a good one. Knowing Korea less I couldn't tell but I imagined that some of the parts in the K-drama were also an attempt to look critically at modern Korean society as well. One thing that seemed evident in both was the idea that parents should never fight or argue in front of their children because sooner or later the child will tend to think that the disagreement between parents is the child's fault. Considering that this is a drama that should get more international play because this behavior by parents is endemic internationally. My children watched it as well and later thanked us that we never argued in front of them. That was a bonus for me.

    As to the production of both I agree with your points. One thing however is that I was completely taken by the two main characters in the K-version. However all of the children in both productions were excellent. I was impressed equally with both Ko Hyun Jung and Amami Yuki. Both very different acting styles but both great. Amami I had never seen in a film but I did see her with the Takarazuka troop. Ko I have seen in several dramas. My favorite is "Sandglass". She was also excellent in "The Great Queen Sunduk" but the historical sequencing bothered me.
    Again that was a very fine essay congratulations.

  5. A Korean in AmericaDecember 19, 2013 at 4:04 PM

    thank you for your kind words.
    Jealous that you were able to see Amami in her Takarazuka troop days

    I am preparing for a Dr. Jin comparison essay that may be fun!
    Researching the Korean version now.
    Try to get it done before the end of the year.

  6. I liked "Dr Jin" as well I'll be interested to see your article. One question.
    see that you are also watching Empress Ki. There seems to be quite a
    bit of controversy about the historical aspects of the drama. What's
    your opinion about the historical license that the drama is accused of
    taking? My opinion is that it is a "double edged sword" in that if the
    historical facts don't jive (in any drama) as observers it's our
    responsibility to check out the historical facts. Korean history is not
    very well known in the West and this should move us to investigate the
    rich history of Korea in a more detailed manner. Since I started
    watching K-drama I have become fascinated with Korea from a social and
    historical point of view. Most of my older Korean neighbors are very
    happy that a non-Korean is interested in their language and history.
    It's also a good inspiration for Americans who have up until now been
    very weak in Asian history.

    Tomas de Utrera

  7. A Korean in AmericaDecember 22, 2013 at 8:34 AM

    Interesting topic. Thinking of doing an editorial regarding this topic for a #Kdrama101 post

  8. A Korean in AmericaJanuary 8, 2014 at 1:55 AM

    What's up with Historical Kdramas? #Kdrama 101 (Class 4)