Monday, March 02, 2020

“SKY Castle” synopsis by episode (Eps. 1-20, no spoilers) with in-depth analysis of its cinematography

Jump to synopsis of Ep. 1-2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12; 13; 14; 15; 16; 17; 18; 19; 20 (Finale); How I wrote these episode summaries with no spoilers; Cast of characters; Historical backgrounders and other information; Lessons in cinematography and photography from “SKY Castle”

From Wikipedia: “Sky Castle” is a 2018-2019 South Korean television series (genres: satire, drama, black comedy). The highest-rated drama in Korean cable television history, it is about the college entrance examination, private education, and the medical field in South Korea. It was written by Yoo Hyun-mi, who wrote the 2012 hit “Bridal Mask” (aka “Gaksital”).

“SKY Castle” won Best Drama awards in the 12th Korea Drama Awards and the 24th Asian Television Awards; it also won the Best Director award in the 55th Baeksang Arts Awards. It has been broadcast in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and India.

The word “SKY” is an acronym used to refer to the three most prestigious universities in South Korea: Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University. The term is widely used in South Korea, both in media broadcast and by the universities themselves.

How I wrote these episode summaries with no spoilers

1. I assumed that you will be reading these summaries and watching the videos chronologically.

2. I narrated some of the main actions in each episode without revealing the plot’s twists and turns.

3. At the beginning of each summary starting with Episode 3, I placed in a table a recap of the major twists and turns of the previous episode. But because you have already watched the video of the previous episode, they aren’t spoilers anymore.

4. I followed this structure all throughout, except for Ep. 20 (Finale) where I included some spoilers. Reason - most people want to know if the drama has a happy ending or a sad ending before they invest the time in watching it.

Cast of characters:

Kim Joo Young
(topnotch academic coach)
Kang family: Joon Sang (father, an orthopedic surgeon); Suh Jin (mother, who relentlessly drives her daughters towards academic success); Yeh Su (eldest daughter); Yeh Bin (youngest daughter)

Hwang family: Chi Young (father, a neurosurgeon); Soo Im (mother; writer of children’s books); Woo Joo (son; the competitor of Yeh Su in admission to Seoul National University’s Medical School)

Hye Na
(Yeh Su’s academic
rival and the love
interest of Woo Joo)
Cha family: Min Hyuk (father; a law professor who drives his twin boys to reach the top of the academic and professional pyramid); Seung Hye (mother, who’s constantly pressured by her husband’s ambitions); Se Ri (daughter, a student in Harvard University): Suh Joon and Ki Joon (twins)

Woo family: Yang Woo (father, an orthopedic surgeon); Jin Hee (mother, who copies everything that Suh Jin does); Soo Han (14-year old son, who’s academically lazy and wants to run away from home)

From top left, clockwise: Kang family,
Hwang family; Woo family, and Cha family

Episodes 1-2

Suh Jin organizes a party in honor of her friend Myung Joo, whose son Young Jae has been admitted into the prestigious Seoul National University’s Medical School. Her husband Joon Sang objects to holding the party, but she pushes through with it in order to learn Young Jae’s “portfolio" (grades, list of academic club memberships and extra-curricular activities) that her daughter Yeh Su can use as her guideline. She invites to the party her friends from the exclusive, ultra-rich neighborhood known as “SKY Castle.”

Suh Jin and Seung Hye find out about the highly-recommended academic coaches who can guarantee entrance into the SKY universities. One of the coaches, Kim Joo Young, chooses to train Suh Jin’s daughter Yeh Su but rejects Seung Hye’s twins. Later, Suh Jin begs her mother-in-law to help pay for Kim Joo Yung’s extravagant fees.

Kim Joo Young finds out that another student, Woo Joo, tied with Yeh Su for the top spot in academics; she orders Suh Jin to befriend Woo Joo’s mother, Soo Im.

Myung Joo returns alone from her family’s foreign travels; later on, her husband and her son Young Jae disappear from SKY Castle.

Woo Joo and his parents move into the house previously owned by Myung Joo. During their first meeting, his mother Soo Im recognizes Suh Jin as someone from her high school days.

Episode 3

Eps. 1-2 recap:

Young-jae refuses to continue with his medical studies and cuts off ties with his parents. Deeply depressed, his mother Myung Joo takes her own life.

Soo Im, who grew up in an orphanage, asks Suh Jin if she is her high school friend, Mi Hyang. But Suh Jin denies it.

Soo Im’s husband, Chi Young, is appointed to the position in the hospital that was left vacant by Young Jae’s father.

After reading Young Jae’s diary, Suh Jin confronts Kim Joo Young and then slaps her.
Through Young Jae’s diary in his tablet, Suh in finds out about Kim Joo Young’s connection to Young Jae’s decision to leave his parents and his studies. She thinks that Kim Joo Young destroyed Myung Joo’s family and could destroy her own family.

After firing Kim Joo Young as Yeh Su’s academic coach, Suh Jin begins looking for another coach.

While the conflict in the hospital between Chi Young and Joon Sang intensifies, Seung Hye and Soo Im start becoming friends. Finding out that Soo Im is a children’s book author, Seung Hye invites her and her son Woo Joo to join the Sky Castle book club. But, later on, conflicts arise in the club when Woo Joo contradicts Yeh Su's interpretation of the book being discussed and Soo Im offends Min Hyuk by calling the book club an utter comedy.

Episode 4

Suh Jin threatens Soo Im not to reveal her past to anyone in Sky Castle.

Despite Suh Jin’s objection, her husband Joon Sang joins the next session of the book club and then votes on whether the club should be continued or disbanded.

Seung Hye and Min Hyuk get into another fight after he vents his anger and frustration on one of the twins by locking him up in the vault-like study room.

Soo Im decides to write a book about teenagers; on her way to Yeh Bin’s school for an interview, she sees Yeh Bin, Soo Han, and their classmates in a convenience store.

When Yeh Su continues to nag her and becomes frantic about the upcoming midterm exams, Suh Jin begs and bribes Kim Joo Young to come back as Yeh Su’s coach. But Kim Joo Young refuses to answer her calls; she also entertains Seung Hye and Min Hyuk’s offer for her to coach their sons.

In the hospital, Chi Young gets into trouble with an idol he’s scheduled to operate on; with Joon Sang’s blessing, Yang Woo contacts all his friends in media to publicize what happened.

Episode 5: “At Any Cost”

Ep. 4 recap:

The book club is disbanded.

The hospital president steps in and saves Chi Young from Jang Soon and Yang Woo’s plan to discredit him.

Soo Im sees Yeh Bin, Soo Han, and their classmates shoplifting in a convenience store.
After Suh Jin begs on her knees, Kim Joo Young accepts being Yeh Su’s coach again. But as Suh Jin leaves, Young Jae barges into the office and attacks Kim Joo Young with a knife.

Suh Jin and Jin Hee warn Soo Im not to interfere with their kids. But later on, Soo Im catches Yeh Bin shoplifting again.

In the hospital, a distraught man creates chaos by threatening to kill the surgeon who operated on his mother.

When Kim Joo Young returns as Yeh Su’s coach, Min Hyuk feels insulted and decides to coach his twins by himself. But, concerned with the welfare of her twins, Seung Hye orders some workers to demolish the vault-like study room’s door and walls.

In Shinhwa High School, Hye Na questions her history teacher’s methods and argues with Yeh Su. Later, when Teacher Jo notices that Yeh Su has become jealous of Hye Na because of Woo Joo, he reports it Kim Joo Young.

Episode 6: “Meritocracy”

Ep. 5 recap:

After cutting all of Seung Hye’s credit cards with a pair of scissors, Min Hyuk demands that she repair the study room within three days.

Chi Young accepts the president’s offer for him to become executive director of Joonam University Hospital.

Suh Jin pays off the convenience store’s owner to delete the footage of Yeh Bin’s shoplifting.

Hye Na’s mother calls up Joon Sang.
Hye Na’s mother, Eun Hye, calls up Joon Sang, asking for a favor. Joon Sang tries to call her back later on, but he hangs up when Suh Jin enters his room.

Seung Hye and Min Hyuk agree that if their sons improve with their academics by following his method, she will have the vault-like study room restored.

Soo Im becomes interested in Hye Na and asks Woo Joo to invite her to their house. But Woo Joo says that they’re not really close and that he just worries about Hye Na’s sick mother. After Woo Joo leaves, Chi Young assures Soo Im that she’s doing well as a mother.

In the hospital, a disgruntled, former patient appears and chases after Joon Sang with a knife.

Yeh Bin finds out about the deal that her mother made with the owner of the convenience store; after Suh Jin picks her up, she threatens to give herself up to the police.

In a coffee shop, a woman goes up to Kim Joo Young, calls her Jennifer, and inquires about Kay. But Kim Joo Young brushes her off.

After Yeh Su mocks her for getting poor grades in school, Yeh Bin steals her mother’s bag and some jewelry and then runs away.

Episode 7: “Never-ending Rivalry”

Ep. 6 recap:

Soo Im is Woo Joo’s stepmother.

Joon Sang uses his gas gun to defend himself against the disgruntled, former patient.

Kim Joo Young goes some place and hands over some crayons to Teacher Jo, who gives them to a teenage girl named Kay.

Soo Im and Yeh Bin find Young Jae’s diary in the tablet.

Soo Im stops Yeh Bin from reading Young Jae’s diary any further, and later on, Suh Jin tries to explain everything to Yeh Bin.

Flashback ... when his parents kick Ga Eul out of the house, Young Jae goes berserk, and his father threatens to disown him.

After a meeting with all of Yeh Su’s tutors, Kim Joo Young scolds her, saying that, despite all her advantages and resources, Hye Na is still better than her.

Yang Woo’s back pains become worse, but his wife Jin Hee tells him not to trust Joon Sang and instead ask Chi Young to operate on him.

After redesigning the study room, Seung Hye tries to soothe Min Hyuk’s wounded pride and change his attitude towards their sons’ upbringing and education.

The rivalry between Yeh Su and Hye Na increases when both of them decide to run for school president.

Episode 8: “At Gunpoint”

Ep. 7 recap:

Hye Na supports her mother’s medical needs by illicitly doing a schoolmate’s requirements in exchange for money.

Suh Jin orders Kim Joo Young to help Yeh Su become the school president. As they’re saying goodbye, Myung Joo’s husband drives up and asks Suh Jin for Kim Joo Young’s contact number.
Young Jae’s father (Park Soo Chang) forces Kim Joo Young into his car and drives off, but Suh Jin quickly follows them.

Later on, in a bar, Park Soo Chang tells Joon Sang how Kim Joo Young destroyed his family. At home that night, Joon Sang orders Suh Jin to terminate Kim Joo Young’s services.

As Soo Im continues the research for her new book, she asks for Seung Hye’s help in meeting Kim Joo Young. But when Suh Jin finds out about it, she warns Soo Im to stay away from Kim Joo Young.

While Yang Woo continues to plead with Joon Sang to operate on him, Jin Hee tries to win back Suh Jin’s friendship.

Woo Joo joins Hye Na as her vice-presidential candidate; meanwhile, Suh Jin tells Yeh Su to pick one of Seung Hye’s sons as her running mate.

Kim Joo Young tells Suh Jin to blackmail Hye Na into withdrawing her candidacy.

Episode 9: “A Celebration Party”

Ep. 8 recap:

Kim Joo Young finds out about Hye Na’s illicit activities in helping a schoolmate in exchange for money.

With no other candidate, Yeh Su becomes school president.

After her mother dies, Hye Na finds out that Joon Sang is her biological father.

As Hye Na calls up Joon Sang, Suh Jin listens in secretly. Later on, with Woo-joo’s help, Hye Na begins befriending Yeh Su in school.

Flashback ... Kim Joo Young’s daughter meets an accident that leaves her mentally impaired.

With Kim Joo Young’s information, Suh Jin and Jin Hee plan to humiliate Soo Im during the party in Yeh Su’s honor.

Min Hyuk threatens to file a case against Soo Im; when Soo-im persists in writing about what happened to Myung Joo and Young Jae, her husband Chi Young asks her if she’s doing it because of what happened to her student Yeon Du.

Kim Joo Young tells Teacher Jo that they must stop Soo Im from writing her book; later on, she orders Teacher Jo to search Hye Na’s apartment.

Episode 10: “Kwak Mi Hyang's Reveal”

Ep. 9 recap:

Soo Im had a troubled student, Yeon Du, who took her own life.

Kim Joo Young tries to manipulate Soo Im by meeting her in the cemetery where Yeon Du is buried and saying that she was Yeon Du’s tutor.

Seung Hye finds out that Min Hyuk got from Suh Jin a complete list of all test questions that have been asked in their sons’ high school subjects.

Kim Joo Young finds out about the connection between Hye Na and Joon Sang.

Kim Joo Young tells Suh Jin to take Hye Na as Yeh Bin’s stay-in tutor.

Suh Jin refuses to follow Kim Joo Young’s suggestion to hire Hye Na as Ye Bin’s stay-in tutor.

Nearly all of the 200 residents of Sky Castle sign the petition; led by Min Hyuk and Suh Jin, the residents then confront Soo and demand that she stop writing her book.

Kim Joo Young continues to manipulate Soo Im by going to the cemetery on Yeon Du’s death anniversary.

Joon Sang finds out about a possible conflict between Chi Young and the hospital president; he sees his chance to get promoted, and so, he contacts Min Hyuk and asks for his help.

After the recent exams, Hye Na takes first place, one of Seung Hye’s sons takes second place, while Yeh Su lands in fourth place.

Episode 11: “Hye Na’s Arrival”

Ep. 10 recap:

During the meeting, Suh Jin is forced to confess her impoverished background as the daughter of a man who sold ox blood in a public market. Jin Hee and the other Sky Castle residents are shocked and begin ostracizing her.

Kim Joo Young finally convinces Suh Jin to accept Hye Na as a stay-in tutor.

Hye Na moves into the basement of Suh Jin and Joon Sang’s house and begins tutoring an excited Yeh Bin, despite Yeh Su’s hostility.

Kim Joo Young takes Soo Im to see and talk to Young Jae’s father. Soo Im pleads with him that her book can help save other young people in situations similar to that of Young Jae.

Because of Hye Na, Yeh Bin’s grades improve, thus qualifying her to the next higher level; finding out about it, Jin Hee asks Suh Jin to let Hye Na tutor her son Soo Han, too.

Seung Hye and Min Hyuk’s daughter, Se-ri, arrives from Harvard for the Christmas holidays. But her welcome party turns sour when Suh Jin and Jin Hee get into a fight.

Coming home from the party, Hye Na imagines herself spending happy times with her father Joon Sang and half-sister Yeh Bin. But while she’s looking at the pictures in Joon Sang’s computer, she’s caught by Suh Jin.

Episode 12: “Another Daughter”

Ep. 11 recap:

Soo Im decides to stop writing her book.

Through a DNA test, Suh Jin verifies that Hye Na is Joon Sang’s daughter.
After coming from the DNA clinic, Suh Jin catches Hye Na inside her jewelry room. With Yeh Bin insisting later on that Hye Na eat with them, she rages in silence, thinking about Hye Na’s motives in coming into her house.

Kim Joo Young visits her daughter Kay. Meanwhile, Soo Im becomes suspicious about Kim Joo Young’s claims about Yeon Du.

As he argues with his mother Jin Hee about his poor grades, Soo Han breaks all of his mother’s expensive tableware; that night, he runs away from home.

Suh Jin hears Hye Na mock Yeh Su about her unrequited love for Woo Joo; she orders Hye Na into her car and then drives out into an isolated road.

At the library, Suh Jin meets her mother-in-law and her friend; the friend turns out to be the woman who previously recognized Kim Joo Young as somebody named Jennifer from Fairfax, Virginia.

Episode 13: “Coach Kim’s Past”

Ep. 12 recap:

Soo Im finds out that Kim Joo Young lied to her about knowing Yeon Du.

Seung Hye finds out from her sister that Se-ri lied about being a Harvard University student.

Suh Jin and Hye Na strike a deal — Suh Jin will have Hye Na recognized as Joon Sang’s daughter but only after Yeh Su has been admitted into SNU’s Medical School. Hye Na agrees but on the condition that she will eat together with the family and be free to roam around the house.

Suh Jin finds out that Kim Joo Young is the suspect in her husband’s murder in Virginia.

Suh Jin searches the Internet for information about “Jennifer Kim.” Later, she meets Soo Im and asks her why she thinks Kim Joo Young is dangerous.

Seung Hye and Min Hyuk get into a fight over Se-ri; meanwhile, Suh Jin decides to confront Kim Joo Young about the murder case against her.

Hye Na becomes demanding, asking Suh Jin to redecorate her basement room and to get her a credit card.

With the help of Min Hyuk, Joon Sang continues with his scheme of being appointed as director of the hospital’s Office of Planning and Coordination by helping the hospital president with his political plans.

Young Jae reunites with his father.

Episode 14: “Yeh Su in Coach Kim’s Grasp”

Ep. 13 recap:

Kim Joo Young takes Suh Jin to her house to see Kay and to explain that the case against her was dropped from lack of evidence.

Hye Na and Woo Joo find out that Se-ri lied about being a Harvard student; later, Joon Sang also finds out about it.

Young Jae urges Soo Im to continue writing her book.

Kim Joo Young manipulates Yeh Su the way that she manipulated Young Jae.

Suh Jin finds out from Teacher Jo that Kim Joo Young knew that Hye Na is Joon Sang’s daughter.

Suh Jin fires Kim Joo Young as Yeh Su’s academic tutor. She also demands for a refund of the fees that she paid, but Kim Joo Young is unfazed.

Min Hyuk finally finds out that Se-ri never qualified for Harvard University. When Se-ri comes home, he slaps her, in front of Seung Hye and their sons.

Chi Young publishes a newspaper article questioning the “crude medical commercialism” and the “dishonest or deceitful practices
that prevail in the university hospital. The article infuriates the hospital director and angers Joon Sang.

To break Kim Joo Young’s hold on Yeh Su, Suh Jin asks for Soo Im’s help; they arrange a study group composed of Yeh Su, Woo Joo, and Hye Na. But on the way to the library, Yeh Su sees Hye Na kissing Woo Joo.

Soo Im confronts Kim Joo Young on why she lied about Yeon Du; when Kim Joo Young says that it’s the parents’ fault what happened to their children, she vows to expose her.

Episode 15: “Hye Na’s Death”

Ep. 14 recap:

Yeh Su refuses to give up Kim Joo Young as her academic coach.

During a fight with Yeh Su, Hye Na blurts out that they are half-sisters. After Suh Jin confirms it, Yeh Su storms out of their house and goes to Kim Joo Young’s office.

When Suh Jin threatens her, Hye Na says that she will publish on social media that she’s the illegitimate daughter of Joon Sang.

Later on, during Woo Joo’s birthday party, Yeh Na tells Kim Joo Young that she really wants to kill Hye Na.

During Woo Joo’s birthday party, Hye Na falls from a 4th floor balcony and is rushed to the hospital. Chi Young prepares to operate on her, but Joon Sang orders him to transfer her to another hospital.

While at the ICU waiting to be taken to another hospital, Hye Na dies.

Suh Jin finds Hye Na’s cellphone and becomes afraid that Yeh Su had pushed Hye Na from the balcony. Later on, she searches Hye Na’s room and destroys everything that could implicate Yeh Su.

The police begin investigating Hye Na’s death as a possible murder case.

Episode 16: “Woo Joo’s Arrest”

Ep. 15 recap:

Woo Joo blames his father Chi Young for Hye Na’s death; he says that it was just like when his mother died.

Kim Joo Young tells Suh Jin that they must turn someone into a scapegoat to turn attention away from Yeh Su. Later, Woo Joo is arrested for Hye Na’s death.
After the police present their evidence against Woo Joo, Soo Im and her lawyer return to the guest house where Hye Na died and begin investigating on their own.

When the police investigators won’t believe that Woo Joo was framed, Soo Im asks Woo Joo if Hye Na had a problem with anyone. Woo Joo remembers that Hye Na hated Yeh Su’s coach, Kim Joo Young.

Despite her doubts, Suh Jin allows Yeh Su to stay with Kim Joo Young for a week.

With Hye Na dead, Woo Joo arrested, and Yeh Su skipping class, Min Hyuk tells his sons to take the opportunity to become number one in their class. But his eldest son defends Woo Joo and his youngest son breaks his precious pyramid.

Jin Hee reveals to Soo Im and Seung Hye that Hye Na was Jang Soon’s illegitimate daughter.

During the funeral, Yeh Bin finds out that Hye Na was her half-sister.

Episode 17

Ep. 16 recap:

Soo Im warns Su Jin that she will reveal everything about Hye Na and Yeh Su.

Woo Joo is formally charged with Hye Na’s murder.

Joon Sang finally learns that Hye Na was her illegitimate daughter.

Suh Jin finds out that Hye Na confronted Kim Joo Young about the copies of the previous exams that she gave to Yeh Su.

Suh Jin tells Joon Sang that he himself killed Hye Na when he ordered her transferred to another hospital. Later, she also finds the audio recording that Hye Na made of her conversation with Kim Joo Young about the leaked questions in the exams where Yeh Su placed first ahead of her.

Soo Im rushes to Kim Joo Young’s office and accuses her of killing Hye Na and framing her son Woo Joo.

Joon Sang visits the columbarium where Hye Na’s remains are kept. Later, he meets his mother in a coffeeshop.

When Suh Jin confronts her about the exam leakages that enabled Yeh Su to top her class, Kim Joo Young warns her that Yeh Su could be expelled from school and fail to qualify for SNU Medical School.

Yeh Su sees Soo Im beg on her knees for her mother Suh Jin to help Woo Joo; later, she visits Woo Joo in jail.

Episode 18

Ep. 17 recap:

In remorse, Joon Sang blames his mother for everything that has gone wrong in his life.

The security guard in the Sky Castle guest house from where Hye Na fell disappears.

After overhearing Suh Jin and Yeh Su talk their suspicions that Kim Joo Young killed Hye Na, Joon Sang confronts Kim Joo Young.
Joon Sang barges into Kim Joo Young’s office, but Suh Jin stops him from taking her to the police station. Later on, Joon Sang packs his bags, leaves the house, and goes to look for his friend, Young Jae’s father.

To keep Teacher Jo silent, Kim Joo Young bribes him with a luxury apartment.

Fed up with Min Hyuk’s domineering ways, Seung Hye tells him that she wants a divorce. But Min Hyuk demands that she write a 10-page letter of repentance.

With Joon Sang suddenly taking a leave, the hospital president finds out the truth about Joon Sang and Hye Na.

Soo Im meets the woman who recognized Kim Joo Young as “Jennifer” from Fairfax, Virginia; the woman tells her Kim Joo Young’s husband wanted a divorce and full custody of Kay.

Unable to get over his guilt over Hye Na and Woo Joo, Joon Sang decides to resign from the university hospital.

Episode 19

Ep. 18 recap:

Seung Hye and her children leave their house, despite Min Hyuk’s threats.

Park Soo Chang advises Joon Sang that even if Yeh Su gets accepted into SNU Medical School, her life will be destroyed.

Despite his mother’s pleas, Joon Sang decides to forget about becoming the next hospital president. He tells Suh Jin that she and Yeh Su must confess before everyone about the leaked exam questions.

When Yeh Su, however, fares badly in the mock exams, Suh Jin accepts from Kim Joo Young the set of leaked questions for the midterm exams.
Despite Soo Im’s pleas, Suh Jin refuses again to help her and Woo Joo. Meanwhile, Yeh Bin begins to rebel, and Yeh Su is unable to sleep because of her guilt and worries.

Suh Jin and Yeh Su later on decide to accept all the possible consequences of their actions; Suh Jin brings the leaked exam questions and Hye Na’s recording of her conversation with Kim Joo Young to the police station.

The police officers raid Kim Joo Young’s office and seize all her records. At the house where Kay is staying, Teacher Jo finds out about the raid and quickly decides to take Kim Joo Young to a secure place. But she stops him and goes back to the house.

The police officers also arrest the teacher who has been supplying the exam questions to Kim Joo Young.

Kim Joo Young goes into Kay’s room (which she has not done for a very long time) and gazes at her lovingly. Later, she prepares a meal for herself and Kay.

Episode 20, Finale: “Goodbye, Sky Castle” (with spoilers)

Ep. 19 recap:

Woo Joo is cleared of the charges against him.

Suh Jin and Joon Sang beg on their knees for Woo Joo’s forgiveness.

Kim Joo Young and Teacher Jo are arrested for the murder of Hye Na and the theft of the official exam questionnaires.

Woo Joo is released from prison; later on, he decides to drop out of school to spend time finding out who he is and what he really wants to do in life. When his parents Chi Young and Soo Im try to encourage him to at least finish high school, he says that he learned from Hye Na’s death how fragile life is.

When Min Hyuk accepts all of her conditions, Seung Hye returns home with their children.

Yeh Su also drops out of school and prepares to take the GED to qualify for college; later on, she forms a study group with Seung Hye’s sons. Yeh Bin, meanwhile, continues to improve with her academic ranking.

Soo Im finishes writing her book and gives the first copies to Young Jae and his father; meanwhile, Young Jae decides to go to college and enroll in a counseling program.

Soo Im arranges for Kay to be taken cared of in a facility outside of Seoul. Later on, she brings Kay to visit Kim Joo Young in jail.

Joon Sang decides to resign from the university hospital and promises Suh Jin that he will become a better husband, a better father, and a better son. Before leaving Sky Castle for good, he, Suh Jin, Yeh Su, and Yeh Bin visit the columbarium where Hye Na’s ashes are stored.

Historical backgrounders and other information

1. Spoiler alert: “Se Ri” is the character who’s the daughter of law professor Cha Min Hyuk and Seung Hye. Her parents think that she’s a student in Harvard University, but she actually deceived her parents.

“Se Ri” is based on the Korean girl who made international headlines in 2015 by claiming to have been accepted into Harvard and Stanford. Although the girl was a student in the elite Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, it turned out later on that, due to parental pressure to excel in academics, she faked her admission into these universities. For more information, please read “Korean teen fakes Harvard-Stanford university admissions in spectacular fashion - all to impress parents” (Independent) and “Student caught in Ivy League admissions lie” (USA Today).

2. The word “SKY” is an acronym used to refer to the three most prestigious universities in South Korea: Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University. The term is widely used in South Korea, both in media broadcast and by the universities themselves. (Wikipedia)

While Seoul National University is a public institution, Yonsei University and Korea University are private, research universities. Yonsei is the result of a merger in 1957 between Yonhi College and Severance Union Medical College. Severance traces its roots to Korea’s first hospital of Western medicine established in 1885 by American (Presbyterian) medical missionaries. The 2010 drama “Jejoongwon” is a fictionalized account of these American medical missionaries and their first Korean students. (The female lead star in “Jejoongwon” is Han Hye-jin, who played “So Seo No” in “Jumong.)

3. South Korean cram schools (“Hagwon”)

International viewers are oftentimes surprised upon seeing, beginning in Ep. 1, the young characters of this drama still going to classes late into the evenings. These scenes show what is known in Korea as cram schools or “hagwon.” From Wikipedia: “Hagwon is the Korean-language word for a for-profit private institute, academy or cram school prevalent in South Korea. Although most widely known for their role as “cram schools,” where children can study to improve scores, hagwons actually perform several educational functions.”

From “Hagwons in South Korea”:
A day in the life of a South Korean Student

Park leaves her home for school at 7:30 a.m. which she attends until 4:00 p.m. She returns home for a quick bite, leaving again for private lessons at her hagwon from 6:30 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.

After her hagwon lessons conclude, she heads back to school for a study session until 11 p.m.

From “Kim Ki-hoon: South Korea’s Cram School King” (The Diplomat):
Last year [2013] South Korean parents dropped $17 billion on hagwon tuition – a figure so high it even attracts investments from Goldman Sachs, the Carlyle Group and A.I.G.

For more information about Korea’s cram schools, please read (1) “Why South Koreans are trapped in a lifetime of study”, (2) “Backlash as Seoul plans longer cram school’s hours” (BBC News, 2016), and (3) “The $4 Million Teacher” (Wall Street Journal).

4. How much of reality is “Sky Castle” based on?
The wealthy in Korea are split into two. The ones in Apgujung have family wealth that’s been passed down for generations and generations so they’re not obsessed with their children studying hard while the ones in Chungdam are mostly high ranking politicians who are obsessed with their children studying hard and following their path. If you notice in ‘Sky Castle’, most of the parents of the students are high profile.

Yes, there really are coordinators who are paid 5 million won [four thousand US dollars] per hour.

5. “Study Cube”

Ep. 2 has at least two scenes that show Yeh Su and a “Study Cube.” It’s a wooden box just big enough for one person and has a built-in desk, bookshelf, white board, LED light, outlet and ventilation grill, and a footrest that serves as a massage bar. The “Study Cube” is manufactured by Emok, a Korean company, and retails for about US $2,200.

From “Box set - TV drama stirs debate over South Korea's cutthroat education culture” (Reuters):

Sales of the “studycube,” a 2.5 million won ($2,235) wooden closet less than one square metre in size where students can hide themselves away to focus on their homework, for example, have soared eight-fold after it was featured in the show [SKY Castle], according to the company which makes it.

The Reuters article says that these “study cubes” appeared in Korea about seven years ago. One student interviewed in the article said that if parents forced their children to use the studycube, it would be like a “rice chest,” which is a reference to the historical figure Crown Prince Sado, who died after he was locked up in a rice chest by his father King Yeongjo. (You can see this scene in Ep. 1 of “Yi San” aka “Lee San, Wind of the Palace.”)

For more information, please watch this YouTube video titled “SKY Castle Study Cube: A Human Cage?”

6. Korean drama ‘SKY Castle’ blamed for inspiring copycat murder of doctor
A popular South Korean TV drama has come under fire for allegedly triggering a copycat crime after a doctor was stabbed to death by a patient in Seoul this week, underscoring the vulnerability of the country’s medical personnel.

The victim, a 47-year-old psychiatrist, died in hospital from multiple chest wounds two hours being assaulted.

7. Fewer top CEOs went to SKY universities (Korea JoongAng Daily)
The proportion of CEOs at the top 500 companies in Korea that graduated from the three most prestigious universities - Seoul National, Korea and Yonsei - has hit a three-year low.
Graduates of the so-called SKY - named after the first letters of their names - universities made up 44.8 percent of CEOs, down 4.1 percentage points from last year and 7.7 percentage points from three years earlier, according to CEO Score, a corporate management information provider, on Wednesday.

8. How to get into SKY Universities (Yonsei, Korea University)

9. The Korean Ivy League: SKY Universities

10. A Day in the Life: Yonsei University Student

Lessons in cinematography and photography from “SKY Castle”

A. In-depth analysis of the drama’s cinematography

1. Eyeline match and the 180-degree rule - for the most part, this drama’s cinematographer followed what is called “eyeline match” and the “180-degree rule.” But I’ve seen several instances when the cinematographer (or probably the editor) did not follow eyeline match. Look at the examples below:

Ep. 1

In the picture above, Myung Joo is frame left and looking to the right; based on eyeline match, viewers would expect that the person she’s talking to (Suh Jin) would be on the right side of the frame (or center frame) and looking to the left. But in the picture below, Su Jin is frame right and looking to the right.

Ep. 9

In the first picture below, Kim Joo Young is frame right and looking to the left; thus, viewers would expect that the person she's speaking to (Suh Jin) would be shown frame left and looking to the right. Instead, as you can see in the second picture below, Suh Jin is frame right and looking to the left.

But, as Shakespeare said, there’s a certain method to the cinematographer’s madness; despite the eyeline mismatch, the viewer’s head or eyes don’t have to move from side to side in looking for Suh Jin (whether in the picture for Ep. 1 or for  Ep. 9). She’s in almost the same exact spot where Myung Joo or Kim Joo Young was in the previous frame. (Notice that I used the qualifier “almost” because sometimes, the cinematographer misses synchronizing the shots.)

2. Recurring technique (multiple images) - in several scenes, the cinematographer creates multiple images of a character, as you can see in the pictures from Ep. 1 and Ep. 9 below. (Of course, instead of being created in-camera, these images could have been added during the post-processing stage.) The cinematographer seems to use these images to show that a character is anxious or confused. But although these images are gorgeous, they are unnecessary. Why? It’s not only because these images call attention to themselves, but also because this is what actors are trained or have the natural ability to do, that is, show different kinds of emotions with their facial expressions, body language, nuances in speech, etc.

For more information on how cinematographic techniques can overwhelm actors and acting, please read “The Ongoing Crisis of Cinematography” by Film Critic Hulk.

3. Changes in aspect ratio - The term “aspect ratio” refers to the proportion of an image’s width to its height. It is commonly expressed as two numbers separated by a colon, for example, 16:9, where 16 is the width, 9 is the height. (16:9 is the aspect ratio for computer monitors, mobile devices, standard YouTube videos, and HD television.)

Aspect Ratios - Tomorrow’s Filmmakers

Video Aspect Ratio Explained -
How Different Aspect Ratios Affect Your Video Style

The cinematographer of “SKY Castle” imitates Wes Anderson’s style (in his award-winning film “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) of using different aspect ratios when showing scenes of the present or of the past. For more information, please read “The Aspect Ratios of The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “What’s the significance behind the three different aspect ratios in “The Grand Budapest Hotel?”

For example, in Episode 4, when Soo Im and Suh Jin confront each other, the cinematographer uses 16:9 aspect ratio. (I found a Reddit thread that says “SKY Castle” actually uses 16:9 aspect ratio but was made to appear like it’s wider at 21:9 by adding the horizontal black bars.) But when Soo Im flashes back to their high school days, the cinematographer uses a squarish aspect ratio, either 1.33:1 (the traditional TV box) or 1.37:1 (the so-called Academy ratio). I’m not sure of what ratio the "SKY Castle" cinematographer used to shoot scenes from the past, but since 1.33:1 and 1.37:1 are almost the same, most people use the term “4:3” to describe both of these ratios.

Present event: Notice that the black bars are at the top and bottom portion of the frame (“letterboxing”).

Past event: Notice that the black bars are now on the left and right sides of the frame (“pillarboxing”).

In Ep. 9, you can see an extended use of the 4;3 aspect ratio (“pillarboxing”) when Soo Im remembers her troubled student, Yeon Du, who took her own life.

4. The miserable ugliness of short siding (reverse lead room) - I explained why I hate “short siding” in my synopsis and review of “Mr. Sunshine.” My dislike for short siding has only been reinforced by the numerous short-sided shots of one character confronting another in “SKY Castle.” From my point of view as a photographer who learned and who practice “filling the frame,” “reading pictures from left to right,” and using “negative space,” this drama’s short-sided shots are some of the ugliest shots that I have ever seen in K-dramas; for examples, see the pictures below of Suh Jin from Ep. 8, Kim Joo Young in Ep.9, and Min Hyuk in Ep. 3.

In contrast, look at the two images below of Seung Hye and her husband Min Hyuk from Episode 1. They’re arguing (again) about how to raise their sons, especially in regard to academics; Min Hyuk is verbally and emotionally abusive towards Seung Hye. To emphasize the fragile relationship between them, the cinematographer places Min Hyuk and Seung Hye at the edge of the frames, with lots of lead room. What can I say? These shots are brilliant.

In contrast to “SKY Castle,” the 2016 blockbuster “Descendants of the Sun” hardly ever used short siding. Also, if you review the opening scene of Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds” featuring the German colonel and the French farmer, you won’t see a single short-sided shot. And yet, the tension in that scene is so palpable; Tarantino says that scene is probably the best in his career.

B. Other lessons in photography from from “SKY Castle”

Natural frames, low angle shot
Conveying depth through foreground and background blur
Establishing shot
Line of direction
Low angle shot, keystoning, Dutch angle
Rule of Odds, low angle shot, keystoning
Rule of Odds
Foreground and background blur, sidelighting
Steelyard principle
Symmetry and balance, vertical lines
Rim lighting
Chiaroscuro (interplay of light and shadow). low-key lighting
Symmetry and balance

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