K-DRAMA FIRST LOOK: “The Midnight Romance in Hagwon” Marks Slow-Burn Story About Life, Career and Love

Having achieved the impressive feat of getting a troublemaking student accepted at a prestigious college, our heroine’s career took off, deeming that student her pride. But it doesn’t seem that our leading lady has foreseen their reunion a decade later, not as a student and his proud teacher but as colleagues.

An encounter that will surely turn our heroine’s steady life upside down, given how our male lead won’t settle for being her colleague, but will try to get much closer than that.

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Bunny S watches The Midnight Romance in Hagwon on Viu

Opening Week Rating:

The Midnight Romance in Hagwon Opening Week Story

“She got rid of the fearsome three in three minutes.”

In the cutthroat world of academies, where it is tough to survive, let alone stand out, our star instructor heroine, Seo Hye-jin (Jung Ryeo Won), managed to make a name for herself, getting students lining up to attend her classes. Her path to success wasn’t filled with roses, though. And it took Hye-jin much hard work to get where she is now.

Being able to handle smoothly a tiger mothers’ group nicknamed The Fearsome Three, everyone around her holds Hye-jin in awe. But instead of just praises and empty words, it might be better to cut down on her heavy workload and give Hye-jin time to recharge. But alas, they practically force Hye-jin into allotting more time to her already packed schedule, so that the academy can accept more students.

“You people are parasites.”

Though she practically does nothing but work, Hye-jin remains cheerful and greets her students with a smile even after facing a humiliating day. It is obvious how Hye-jin genuinely cares for her students and doesn’t regard them as mere sources of her paycheck.

When some of her students get unfair grades because of an obstinate teacher who won’t admit to his mistake, Hye-jin meets him in person, risking everything she has achieved till now. Things get heated, though, and the teacher humiliates Hye-jin. Yet she remains resolute and doesn’t budge.

As a recharge after this tough day, Hye-jin thinks back on one troublesome student she met ten years ago, deeming the time he got into a prestigious college the best moment in her life. But running into that student again as an applicant for the new instructor position at her academy might not be something Hye-jin saw coming.

“I wanted to earn a ton of more money than I would have at my previous job.”

Sick of corporate life, Hye-jin’s former student, Lee Joon-ho (Wi Ha-joon), resigns from his job and signs up for the instructor’s job. Joon-ho’s motive for joining the private academies world, a.k.a the vein of gold that never dries up, can’t be any simpler than earning as much money as possible. Yet, perhaps along the way, Joon-ho will discover a different motive to keep going in that direction other than a hefty paycheck and owning a Gangnam apartment.

Though Hye-jin tries her best to dissuade Joon-ho from that risky move by mentioning how difficult an instructor’s life is, Joon-ho sticks by his decision. He is confident that he will get the job. And even if Hye-jin gets in the way of him joining her academy, Joon-ho will just apply somewhere else.

“I didn’t ask how meaningful this job was. I told you I wanted to help the kids bring up their grades and get paid accordingly.”

Getting in Joon-ho’s way is what exactly Hye-jin does. Though he passed the written test with flying colors and impressed everyone at the test lecture with his refreshing approach, Hye-jin kept nitpicking and raising issues about Joon-ho quitting his previous job in less than three years instead of treating Joon-ho fairly as an applicant.

Satisfyingly enough, Joon-ho calls Hye-jin out on taking that matter personally instead of fairly evaluating his skill set. Why does Hye-jin keep telling Joon-ho things he never asked for to talk him out of becoming an instructor? Is Hye-jin okay with the academy getting wind that she met an applicant privately to convince him to drop out? Hye-jin can argue about doing this for Joon-ho’s sake all she wants. But that is clearly crossing the line and not respecting Joon-ho’s decision.

Thinking back on everything, Hye-jin rewatches a video of Joon-ho’s test lecture with unbiased eyes and gives him a fair evaluation. We end this week with Joon-ho’s first day at work after getting accepted by Hye-jin as her new junior. But instead of pep talk or words of congratulations, Hye-jin gives Joon-ho a list of the difficulties he will face as an instructor. At least he got addressed by her as a teacher. So, it isn’t all lost.

The Midnight Romance in Hagwon Opening Week Musings

I thought the reason Joon-ho’s sudden career change would be his crush on Hye-jin or an idealistic vision of paying it forward by helping struggling students achieve better results. Yet I like this realistic approach more. Joon-ho might hold Hye-jin in high regard and think of her as more than just a teacher, but Joon-ho has yet to develop real romantic feelings for her.

Having one’s former student suddenly become a potential colleague sounds confusing indeed. But instead of being totally against it, I would have loved it if Hye-jin listened carefully to Joon-ho’s perspective and accepted his decision. Luckily, she came around before it was too late.

Lest we forget about the drama’s educational backdrop, we get some hints at tension arising because of the problematic teacher from before. Public school teachers vs private sector instructors is a never-ending battle. And while I am curious as to how the drama will handle this theme, let’s hope we won’t dive deeply into it. Secondary plotlines are always welcome, but I wish the show’s focus wouldn’t drift away from the heart-melting romance between a teacher and her former student it promised us.

Slow-burn romances are fascinating but I wish the drama could pick up its pace now that we have the setup out of the way. Using their backstory as a teacher and students to promote the academy sounds good, but more than attracting new students, I am excited to see how it brings our leads together now that they are in a closer vicinity.

The Midnight Romance in Hagwon streams on Viu!

Photos and Videos: tvN Drama