When Park Hye-ryun released information about her new KBS drama, Page Turner, there was a lot of interest, given her track record: Pinocchio, Dream High, and I Hear Your Voice. With its plot of over-burdened music students and a gymnast, who question their direction in life after two accidents, Page Turner is a gripping tale. It stars the ever dependable Kim So-hyun as Yoon Yoo-seul, rising star Kim Ji-soo as Jang Cha-shik, and Sassy Go Go’s Shin Jae-ha as Suh Jin-mook.
This review contains spoilers; so if you stop reading right now, the biggest takeaway is that Page Turner might be the best drama of 2016, thanks to its solid storytelling-wise combined with great acting.
Unlike the average length of dramas, which range about 16, or even drama specials, which are one episode, Page Turner is a three episode drama. There is no minimum or maximum time in which to tell a good story; but as seen with weekend dramas, which span over hundreds of episodes, and the lack of popularity for one-episode drama specials, pacing in a drama is paramount.
By having a shorter drama, time constraints speed up the pacing and allow more focus to be placed on dynamic characters and their development. Since the total drama is under three hours, there are no superfluous characters. Each of the three main characters undergoes a dramatic change in their mindset from the start of episode 1, to the end of episode 3.
In a typical drama, the female protagonist might have to sacrifice personal growth in order to redeem the male lead; in Page Turner, however, all three characters mutually grow. There is a drastic change from two angry pianists and a gymnast to two passionate pianists and a budding pianist. This transformation is best seen in episode 3 with the three-way piano at the piano concur.
Park Hye-ryun could have easily rested on cliches, with the essential plot of the drama being overburdened children set in a music school setting. But as seen with Dream High, and now with Page Turner, Park Hye-ryun has a certain knack for encapsulating the realities of youth and creating a story filled with hope.
Where the drama could have easily gone dark with Yoo-seul attempting suicide, Cha-shik contemplating suicide, and Jin-mook’s emotionally abusive father, Park Hye-ryun uses humor and irony to diffuse tension. There’s situational irony with Yoo-seul attempting suicide by jumping off a parking garage ledge, only to fall straight into Cha-shik’s arms; and dramatic irony with Cha-shik contemplating suicide just moments before. And yet, the drama remains light.
The drama retains a lot of realism with Yoo-seul becoming blinded and not wearing sunglasses, a popular trope in TV. Yoo-seul’s cold personality is further exacerbated by her disability and she makes large changes in her life; she says she wants to quit piano and finally reveals her innermost thoughts to her mother.
The title of the drama, Page Turner, its obviously music related; but being someone’s page turner is being someone’s support. This drama places a lot of literal emphasis on page turners, that can make or break a performance; but it is also all about being a page turner for someone else. Cha-shik supports Yoo-seul’s love for music; Yoo-seul unknowingly supports Jin-mook’s passion for music; and Jin-mook supports Yoo-seul’s music.
While romance can make a drama more popular, Park Hye-ryun rightfully doesn’t push for relationships where all three of the main leads aren’t ready for romance. Yoo-seul is still adjusting to her disability and learning how to make friends, while avoiding aloofness as a defense mechanism. And as evidenced with Cha-shik, he is at a turning point in his life, pursuing a new passion.
That is not to say that the relationship between the three won’t later turn romantic, as there were clear hints towards it between Cha-shik and So-hyun. But any relationship at this time period in their life would be unhealthy and none of them are emotionally prepared.
The time constraint on this drama also would only allow for spur-of-the-moment romances, or romance eating away at their personal development. Not having a romantic ending is more realistic; with three characters in a happier place in their life, this might not be considered the typical idea of a happy ending — but it should be.
Others might say that not revealing Yoo-seul’s response to winning the piano concur with Jin-mook was a letdown, and while having Yoo-seul aware of Jin-mook could be good for their later friendship, it wasn’t necessary for her character arc. Yoo-seul and Jin-mook’s story arcs are ones where they rediscover their love of music despite familial pressure to be the best. The flash forward was necessary so we could see how these piano concurs changed not only their lives but those of their parents, too.
The real conclusion to Page Turner is that last piano performance of Liszt’s arrangement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, which defines the show’s essence: one of joy and the celebration of music. Park Hye-ryun’s Page Turner is like Liszt’s arrangement: when Liszt tried to transcribe Beethoven’s symphony (an orchestral piece requiring a large ensemble) for solo piano, he realized the difficulty for one person to play — hence, two pianos. Having all three leads play together demonstrates how much having supportive friends and enjoying music changed their lives.
In short, Page Turner was magical.