Hindsight Review: KBS Drama Special White Christmas – Incredibly Deep Psychological and Philosophical Thriller

TYPE OF REVIEW : HINDSIGHT REVIEW
Major spoilers! Only for those who’ve seen the entire series. For First Impression review, read here.

I was absolutely blown away. For seven episodes of the KBS Drama Special White Christmas (화이트 크리스마스) , it might seem like it is merely a young adult mystery/thriller.

But as the incredible finale showed, the first seven episodes were really the setup to what ended up being a deep, philosophical discussion. It was a psychological thriller, not some murder mystery or teen angst drama. And that alone set it apart from anything you might ever see on Korean television.

White Christmas was edgy. It pushed the envelope. This isn’t your makjang melodrama or your cute romantic comedy. It didn’t just try to be deep and have meaning, it did.

It started out as seven students (plus one) at the nation’s most exclusive and prestigious high school each receiving a threatening note at the start of Christmas vacation, prompting them to stay at school instead of going home for their only annual escape from the school they all called a prison.

But slowly, it turned into a psychological thriller. A stranded doctor (played to chilling perfection by Kim Sang Kyung) who turns out to be a wanted serial killer conducts an experiment on the eight students hoping to find the answer to the question, “Are monsters born or raised?”

He plays the students, turns his experiment into a game, possibly hoping to find justification for his own sins.

All this, only realized in the final two episodes and especially in the stunning finale.

There are shows that revolve around the posing of questions and the search for the answers that maybe never come.

White Christmas subtly posed the question about monsters at the beginning. Little did we know it would be what drives the entire series.

And was it answered at the end? Yup, I’d say so. And in a big way.

Though slightly vague, the ending at the very least presented a provocative answer to the question. Are humans really born monsters, or are monsters created by way of life’s circumstances?

It would appear, maybe neither. There is a monster in everyone, but it is up to each individual to decide whether or not that monster gets let out. The finale presented a moral gray area that very much applies to world events just this past week.

What makes a monster any less of a monster than the next person?

“I won,” Kim Yohan says. Did he? Indeed, maybe in the end, he was successful in awakening the monsters inside the students, monsters that were created by their own parents. Which then presents the argument for “monsters are created.”

But the students posited their own hypothesis, regardless of whether monsters are born or raised, they have the freedom to choose whether or not that monster gets let out. A basic example of free will.

And my mind was blown.

Excellent and thoughtful writing. Beautiful cinematography and creatively meaningful direction.

And most of all, an outstanding young cast. All deserved to be named one by one: Baek Sung Hyun, Kim Young Kwang, Lee Soo Hyuk, Kwak Jung Wook, Hong Jong Hyun, Esom, Kim Hyun Joong, Sung Joon and Lee El.

White Christmas more than surprised me. An incredible, thoroughly satisfying experience. Chilling, haunting, thoughtful, provocative… it’s not every day you see this kind of series on television, let alone a Korean series. Maybe it was that it came out of nowhere that makes the series even that more successful creatively.

I loved it the first seven episodes, but the final 20 minutes of the series, it shot up to claim a spot with my all-time favorites.

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31 thoughts on “Hindsight Review: KBS Drama Special White Christmas – Incredibly Deep Psychological and Philosophical Thriller

  1. Your review was so good.
    I was really interested by this drama as well, but I wasn’t too sure why and you’re thoughts really helped me. I was searching for a good analysis to read about White Christmas, but since it wasn’t a mainstream drama, I couldn’t find anything substantial.

    Thank you!!

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  2. Agree that this was a superb drama. I kept wondering after viewing it, if this writer could accomplish a complete drama in just 8 episodes…w/o adding any “dragging add on episodes”, why can’t the other drama writes do the same? Most korean dramas go on forever and ever. JDramas usually are 9-12 episodes at most usually averaging about 10 or 11 episodes.

    But, this was very finely crafted. Really enjoyed it. Hoping to see it again after purchasing the dvd and even more hoping that the english subs are very good.

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    • It was definitely a superb drama and I think having just 8 episodes helped keep the action moving. It was slow and subtle, yet fast paced at the same time. It was wonderful.

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  3. Hello!
    I read your review and it has helped me a lot! After watching the drama, I was very confused as to what happened.
    Could you help me explain?
    Haha, i’m thinking about this drama like crazy and it’s driving me nuts.
    In the last episode, what happened when the police said the teacher was still alive? And what about when they said “so Yohan shot himself in the mouth?” And who was the guy in the garden then?
    Also, who was the guy with the blue birthmark? Yoonsu’s brother or something? Well, I don’t really understand any of Yoonsu’s past, he was kidnapped? The person who kidnapped him had a son with a blue birthmark?
    So, in the end Yoonsu killed himself because he didn’t want to let the monster out?
    The other kids killed Yohan and walked away, but their monsters were awaken?
    Gaaaah, its drving me crazy! Haha, please answer! >___<

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    • There was definitely a lot going on in the finale.

      With the teacher, I guess the police had thought that Yohan was the teacher and that the serial killer was the dead body they found in the garden. That’s why the kids were shocked when the police told them. There was a part in the 2nd to last episode I think where Yohan fired the gun and the others thought he had killed Chihun. Maybe he had shot the teacher to make it look like he committed suicide and that was the gunshot they heard.

      With Yoonsu, yes, he was kidnapped by his nanny and the blue birthmark kid was the nanny’s son. Since his parents were always away, the nanny was more like a mother to him and so when they came to take him back home, his perfect “family” was shattered I guess.

      And yup, it seems Yoonsu killed himself because he didn’t want the “monster” to come out, especially since his mother continued to be pretty cold to him after the ordeal. When Yohan said “I won” it appears he had proved that there are monsters in everyone and it is just a matter of waking them up. I guess the moral dilemma they bring up is, are the kids monsters for getting rid of a monster?

      Hopefully that cleared some things up, though I can’t really be too sure myself! Hehe. It was a very fascinating series. I loved it and it is fun to go back and see all of these questions that really, there are no definite answers to! =D

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      • My interpretation of Yoon Su’s story was slightly different. The nanny raised him with so much more love and concern than his real mother and so he thought that she was his mother, This caused his mother be jealous and hence firing the nanny. In the last scene, Yoon Su told the boy with the blue face that he lied because he was jealous of him (the nanny’s real son). He probably lied about her kidnapping him and felt guilty about it. That’s why he always felt haunted by the boy with the blue face (which we were shown did actually exist)

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      • Hi :)
        I’ve just watched last ep(all ep.) and I’m in shock! When I started watching it I was like “oh, finally there’s something interesting”(I watched many korean dramas).
        And now I’m happy because it was amazing! I was crying and it was surprising in every moment.
        I was curious about what happened to the teacher etc. so thanks for your explaining :)
        But I think in one point you probably were wrong… I mean teacher was dead so he couldn’t shut him again but in one ep. Yohan looked at the teacher’s body so maybe after that he took him to the roof? But it’s strange he couldn’t do that it would be to difficult. Or maybe his stalker-girl did it?
        And who jump from the roof with MuYeul? That person was teacher’s body?

        What do you think?

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        • I have just finished the drama, and I found it really amazing. I think the teacher’s body was taken to the roof by the doctor after the kids found his corpse, and he made a small snow mound in the garden to make the students believe that his body was still there. So actually, when the police found MuYeol, he was with his real teacher. And they did not jump off otherwise MuYeol would be dead. The doctor somehow fooled the police – I can’t believe they did not recognise the serial killer and let him walk away.

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  4. omg i just finished watching this series c:
    in actually about a day.
    it was realllyyyy interesting and the ending really irked me because he said “i won”
    i dont know it just really bothered me..i dont think theyre really monsters in all honesty they may have killed him but honestly if we picked any other 7 innocent kids they would have done the same thing in the same circumstances right?
    so i dont think theyre really monsters. the real monster is the killer….

    it still bothers me that the teacher and Yun Su died though T.T

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  5. There were so many loopholes in this story that it just about killed me to finish it. I was bored to tears with the wooden acting the insertion of music video sequence and the wardrobe overkill. It’s not even a good psychological thriller, how could they gather 8 students who look that gorgeous, I mean come on top students doesn’t mean they also have first dibs on the pretty. The actors were only allowed to smile or laugh for 5 minutes per episode if at all and not to show any expression except to angst about their life which isn’t that bad anyway. The interaction between the students was so fake and their reaction to the situation unbelievble, almost all of them did the stare down with the gun (would that be considered as good acting whahahaha). Come on 6 guys all over 6 ft’ could not take on one measly guy who had been sick, ok so he has a gun but the odds 3:7 is not bad. The building reminds me of a catwalk you know all corridors that our cast could walk on to showcase their winter collection.

    The police had the chance to shoot the good doctor a couple of times and what did the police say, “he has kept his word so let him finish it”, o lord if that was the cop sent to save me I’ll beat the crap out of him monster or no monster and how could the doctor escape pray tell. Couldn’t the coroner distiguish a cadaver that has been dead for several days as oppose to a freshly shot body. Didn’t they interview the students? Didn’t they have a picture of the dead teacher, i thougt they flashed the picture of the serial killer on TV so that’s how the teacher found out about him. Don’t they watch CSI? The loopholes in the story showcases the incompetent writing. If this was done with more emphasis on the substance such as good writing, competent actors, tight editing then it would have been a joy to watch instead its just one long boring ride to the final catwalk in the hospital corridor.

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    • “how could they gather 8 students who look that gorgeous” – I don’t think theyre looks have anything to do with the story at hand. If it were the same actors with less conventionally-pretty faces, it wouldn’t have made a difference. I don’t think the writer was going for a complete realistic approach to begin with. In fact, I heard the writer requested very tall actors. I think she was trying to continue this idea of uniformity and perfection that is was being idolized and applauded by the society and embodied in Susin High. To me, that’s thinking about all aspects of the world your creating.

      “…angst about their life which isn’t that bad anyway.” – That’s entirely subjective. People deal with different issues about their lives in completely different ways. I’m almost offended by that comment.

      I’m doubt many people would be willing to risk their lives as you would (I’m sure Mr. Doctor wouldn’t be afraid of shooting them). 3:7 odds means 3 people would be dead, the others saved maybe. They tried other ways to overtake him (more logically) if you don’t remember.

      I do see what you mean with the doctor-police thing though. However, I still have to disagree with the “good writing” comment. Did you miss all of the psychological aspects? The questions posed are not affected by the actors ‘good-looks’ or nice winter wardrobes. If you’re hung up on that then you’re missing the point of the story.

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    • I agree with you as you wrote “There were so many loopholes in this story” (I was angry because of dumb police) but even that I enjoyed it. I don’t watch usually trillers but in every I watched ppl acted stupid, like when they go alone to a suspicious places so if I compare it I think White Christmas wasn’t that bad in this point :).
      (Sorry for my English)

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  6. Maybe I’m stupid for reading the recap before it was finished, but I didn’t think there would be so many spoilers. Only read up to the part about the dude being the serial killer, but that pretty much ruined it.

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    • Eek, I’m sorry about that. Maybe I should’ve made it clearer. This is my “Hindsight Review,” my reviews of Korean dramas after they’ve ended their runs (essentially breaking down the series) and looking back at my initial reviews of the series when it first started, maybe you should of read that one.

      But even knowing that one spoiler, it is revealed pretty early and the action and psychological warfare takes off from there. The revelation that the dude is the serial killer is only the beginning. =]

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      • Ack. I’m sorry for reacting that way, now I just feel really rude.
        I kept watching the rest of the drama, and I still enjoyed the show even knowing that spoiler. I’m sorry I reacted that way. I shall leave another comment soon because I am going to read your full recap now. :D

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  7. This drama, I don’t even know what to say about it. There was a lot of messiness in the writing with all the different loopholes but I still liked it regardless. I think all of the characters really struck me and I could sympathize with all of them. I like how everyone is so multidimensional. This drama rocks, pretty much. I wasn’t really happy with the ending, mostly because it didn’t make ANY SENSE. What kind of idiot police mistake the teacher for the killer?

    Still, I liked it. It was just so profound. And I’m also super depressed that it’s over… Are they planning on making a sequel? Or something? I feel like I want to watch dramas with the same actors but it won’t be the same, since the people I’m in love with are the characters themselves. Any drama recommendations for something like this?

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  8. Thanks for the review!! I had about the same idea except it was great to find that someone was thinking along the same lines as me: that everyone is capable of being a monster but it’s up to them to decide which path they will take. I have a slightly different perspective on the ending on the roof. I think that they became monsters for that one moment because it felt justified, that this was an evil that killed people, played with them and revealed something in them that they tried to ignore, particularly in Mookyul. I’m not as hopeful as you are that they will all keep their ‘monster’ under check, but I think that they’ll definitely ensure that they won’t become the monster that the doctor was.

    In terms of the acting, production, etc, I thought it was well done, even if there were gaping holes in some of the scenes and set-up. What story doesn’t? It was a relatively small production, with many of the actors actually models looking to expand, so they probable only had a smaller budget, which would explain the rather useless police. Every time there was an opportunity to escape or wrestle the gun from the doctor, it seems the actors/scriptwriters/director have been criticized for letting it pass and letting the doctor stay in control. I think an important part that they are deliberately trying to convey, maybe a little unsuccessfully, is that these are students. They are students at a privileged institution and come from quite privileged and sheltered backgrounds themselves. They attend school all year round and are not encouraged to take up interests and focus blindly ahead. Like taking the blinkers off a race horse during a race, they panic and have no idea what to do. They’re not like the teacher who was educated in these situations and is highly skilled in judo( I think). All the way until the final episode, you can feel that they’re still a little out of their depth, that they don’t know which way to go, confused by the manipulation of the serial killer. Jae Kyu said it pretty clearly that he just wants it to end.

    Would have absolutely loved a sequel or at least a “them in the future” scene, but we can’t have everything. :)

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  9. I just watched this during this Christmas wknd and I was HOOKED. I usually don’t like psychological thrillers but this was really well made. I heard that this was originally supposed to be a 16 episode “regular” k-drama but they had to shorten it due to either the content or… some other restriction. I wish it would have been longer as it would have been better to see more of students’ backgrounds but this was really superbly done for 8 episodes.

    Although I feel like Jaekyu’s character already had his inner monster released in the first place since he was the one that sent out the letter to everyone to remind them that they all contributed to Jinsoo’s suicide…

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  10. From the start, I had a feeling that the psychologist is a bad guy.
    Also, Jae Kyu looked suspicious from the beginning, so I felt like he has something to do with the letter.
    The patient of the psychologist too. I had a feeling that she’s up to something.

    Choi Chi Hoon and Kang Mo were my favorites :) and I admit I cried when I thought Chi Hoon was shot.

    Anyway, I agree with what Oli said. The doctor probably used the last bullet to the teacher, whom the police mistakenly thought too be the hostage-taker.
    The police officers were so naive for not responding to a call quickly and for not recognizing the serial killer.

    I know this may sound off, but I think the school should have security guards no matter what time it is.

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  11. I just finished White Christmas and really enjoyed it. Like a commenter said, the doctor saying he won really irked me but it’s because I think what he said was true. I don’t want to view them as monsters. Others are saying that they aren’t monsters; they were just getting rid of a necessary evil…..but that’s how the serial killer also thinks. He said it himself, there has to be a sense of duty and responsibility. To me, this is just the beginning for them. Not all of them of course, but I have a feeling Muyeol will transform into the worst, if he does become a monster. The look in his eyes during the final interview was chilling!! I wanted good to win but I honestly don’t think it did. They’ve awakened their monsters and who knows what will happen after you realize that you’re capable of murder. Lovely drama though :)

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  12. I’m just finished. Totally LOVE it. You guys are right though. Some of the scenes are very unnatural.

    I am thinking about another ending for the drama. What if the students save the psychologist? Then the police catch him. What next? Will he stop bothering them since his experiment is false, which means that he can’t make monsters out of them. So he agrees he was born a monster then. I don’t know. It is complicated. Btw, he didn’t solve Jo Young Jae’s problem. Young Jae probably still scared of his mother.

    I feel bad for Mireu though. He didn’t get the letter but got involved in this situation.

    I want more dramas/ movies like this. Any recommendations please?

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    • Isn’t it such a great drama? And yes, there’s definitely a lot of interesting possibilities with the endings.

      Unfortunately, there aren’t very many darker and thought provoking dramas like this. Though one I’ve seen that is at least in a similar style is “Jungle Fish 2.” Have you see it? It is an 8-episode KBS drama also. It’s not as philosophical as “White Christmas,” but it is a mystery and centers around the relationships of a group of high school friends.

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  13. So, i have one question. The cops announced that the teacher was alive in the final episode. They also mentioned that he was at the hospital and being treated. So, I am assuming that the doctor was posing as the teacher? And they somehow found him somewhere else? And the body next to Muyuel was the real teacher’s frozen dead body? Right? I mean, I read the first page of comments on this review, but after reading and writing this out, the teacher was never alive after the kid’s were rescued, right? it was all a mistake and misunderstanding by the indignant cops… right?

    And for the blue marked guy at the gas station…that’s the nanny’s son all grown up, right?

    i just want to get some things down and make sure i am in full understanding of this show that has dawned on me as one of the most brilliant shows ever written.

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    • You are correct on both points, if I remember correctly. The doctor set it all up, moving the teacher’s body, shooting into his mouth to make it seem like a suicide. So the doctor was able to escape once again.

      And the blue guy, yes, that’s him all grown up.

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  14. Pingback: Recap: Kamen Rider Drive, Episode 48 – “This is your real starting line. Start your engine!” | dryedmangoez

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