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'Secret Mother' makes thriller out of Korea's unique education system

All Headlines 17:27 May 11, 2018

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, May 11 (Yonhap) -- The upcoming weekend TV series "Secret Mother" on SBS features such a bizarre -- even disturbing to some -- occupation that many Korean viewers will easily dismiss it as being fictional.

But the job of playing a "surrogate mother," tasked with managing and improving a child's academic performance, has existed for some years in pockets of notoriously hyper-competitive neighborhoods in Gangnam, southern Seoul.

Only those with a proven record of getting their own kids into a top-tier university can get the high-paying job. The job specifications include finding best education and private teachers for the kid, arranging the kid's schedule down to the minute, helping with homework and following up on academic progress.

Actor Song Yoon-ah enters a hall to attend a press conference for the new TV series "Secret Mother" in Seoul on May 11, 2018. (Yonhap)

"Actually I have been hearing about the job for some time. I was surprised to learn that quite a few households use such services," actress Song Yoon-ah said at a press conference held at the SBS headquarters in Seoul on Friday.

"I don't think I can go that far, even though I hope my kid excels at school," said the mother of a 7-year-old boy. "There are kids who do well in school, and there are those who are good at painting. It is a parent's responsibility to help their children figure out what they are good at."

Two main actors, Kim So-yeon (L) and Song Yoon-ah (R), pose for photos during a press conference of the new TV series "Secret Mother" in Seoul on May 11, 2018. (Yonhap)

The mystery drama centers on two women -- Kim Eun-young (played by Kim So-yeon), a mysterious live-in surrogate mother who takes charge of education of a young boy, and the boy's mother Kim Yun-jin (Song Yoon-ah), a stay-at-home mom who goes so far as giving up her psychiatrist profession to help her son excel academically.

Kim Eun-young's entrance in her life slowly causes a crack in the boys' mother's otherwise stable and affluent life. Shrouded in mystery, the woman seems to hide issues and have ulterior motives.

The drama also paints a stark picture of the country's overheated education market where a mom's success is equated with her child's academic performance.

"I hope the drama helps raise awareness about the ill effects of the ultra-competitive education system," said the other main actor, Kim So-yeon.

On top of the educational issues, she said the story is also about comforting people prone to making mistakes.

"The characters in the drama have their own defects and scars. They knowingly make mistakes and soon regret them. As the story progresses, they gradually heal themselves. I hope TV viewers feel the same way."

The 32-part drama will premiere at 8:55 p.m. Saturday.

A poster for the upcoming TV series "Secret Mother" on SBS. (Yonhap)


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