After having seen over a hundred Kdramas in the last three years, it’s glaringly obvious that the new Netflix Kdrama ‘The Glory’ is unlike any I’ve seen before. As a Netflix original, it is direct to the streaming platform and so it can do away with certain things we’ve come to expect: it only has 8 episodes (and its part two will be released sometime next year around March), its adult themes include imagery of graphic sex and some nudity, and way more graphic displays of violence. The show doesn’t pull any of its punches and it doesn’t have to since it isn’t released on Korean television, it doesn’t have to abide by their television regulations.
So the revenge story that is at the heart of ‘The Glory’ can get very graphic and detailed. There’s an almost campy way by which the bullies of the story, as they are depicted in the series, can appear one-dimensional and on the extreme side of evil. They have no redeeming factor and the victim, Moon Dong-eun, is a poor girl out of luck. No one is on her side and after a tremendous amount of bullying (as depicted in the first season), she has chosen to turn her whole life into an instrument of revenge against her bullies.
This incident happened in 2004 and the story is set in 2022, so 18 years have passed and what unfolds is a dangerous game of vengeance that has been carefully planned for years. Dong-eun has been stripped off of all her dignity and her soul and she is ready to commit worse upon her tormentors. At the center of it all is her becoming the homeroom teacher of the daughter of the biggest bully of the group, Park Yeon-jin.
The show is polished and slick. It can be campy in how evil the bullies are (after 18 years, they have not mellowed in any way; they are just as cruel only older) and how steadfast Dong-eun is set on her revenge. It revels in its formalist tone with great lighting, amazing set pieces, and fantastic drone shots that really create a sense of place and bigness to the show. The largeness of the filmmaking makes Dong-eun’s scheme to exact her payback seem biblical, almost divine, even when scriptwriter Kim Eun Seok (of ‘Descendants of the Sun’) writes a stirring narration from Dong-eun that she doesn’t believe in god. How could she? The narration, written as letters from Dong-eun to Yeon-jin, reveals the deep obsession she has over her tormentor. It’s almost like the dark side of love. It creates a frightening effect that can really put a chill down your spine when you realize how far someone will go for revenge.
The show is quick to justify Dong-eun’s vengeance, you even root for her, but it also manages to temper that bloodlust with a sense of humanity. On her way, Dong-eun finds people who are keen on helping her in her path, whether intentionally or not. And this is when the show is at its best.
Early on, she meets Mrs. Kang, who becomes a sort of partner. She also meets a young doctor Joo Yeo-jeong, from whom she learns the game of Go (the reasons of which are all part of her plan), who also falls in love with her. It’s in her interactions with these two people that Dong-eun finds herself in a moment of grace; a chance to feel like a human being and while she quickly holds her ground to maintain her purpose and determination to continue on her path of revenge, it’s in these moments where the show really shines.
Song Hye-kyo’s last drama ‘Now We’re Breaking Up’ was not a good comeback for her as the character she played was flat and uninteresting and her performance didn’t help create any sort of texture for the character at all. Here, as Dong-eun, she is once again in that same vein – a person who is holding back, creating walls, and trying to look fierce as she goes head on against her former tormentors. In long stretches of scenes, she can play off on one note and so it becomes a breath of fresh air when she does have moments with Yeo-jeong (a very charming Lee Do-hyun) or with her interactions with Miss Kang (played excellently by Yeom Hye-ran), the two people who can bring out her softer side. It’s there where we can see the Song Hye-kyo of ‘Descendants of the Sun.’
The bullies, on the other hand, Lim Ji-yeon, Park Sung-hoon, Cha Joo-young, Kim Hi-eora, and Kim Gun-woo, are having a blast being as evil as possible. They are chewing up the scenery at every turn and it seems they are having fun with it so we have fun watching their world slowly crumble as Dong-eun returns into their lives and turns the tables.
With only 8 episodes on the first season, of which the first 6 does an excellent job at setting up the stakes and raising the tension, ‘The Glory’ is poised to be another daring Netflix original show that is set to explore the dark side of revenge. Strangely enough, it makes us root for the victim-turned-tormentor and gives us a space to really express our darkest thoughts against the topic of bullying and bullies. It’s not a comfortable feeling, this blood lust, but it’s an interesting one to explore and dig into as we enter a totally new year. How do we address the issues of bullying? And how long are we to accept a system that protects the rich and powerful?
‘The Glory’ shows us that revenge is sweet but also asks, “at what cost?”
The Glory starts streaming on Netflix this December 30.