K-drama ● Review: The Glory
English Title: The Glory
Korean Title: 더 글로리
Director(s): Ahn Gil-ho
Screenwriter(s): Kim Eun-sook
Studio: Hwa & Dam Pictures, Studio Dragon
Part 1 Runtime: 8 episodes, 47m–54m each.
Part 2 Runtime: 8 episodes, 52m–71m each.
Starring: Song Hye-kyo, Lee Do-hyun, Im Ji-yeon, Park Sung-hoon, Kim Hi-eo-ra, Cha Joo-young, Kim Gun-woo, Jung Sung-il, Yeom Hye-ran
My Verdict: Revenge drama with somewhat simple plot and characters. Nothing great but it is sufficiently captivating to keep one watching to the end.
● Moon Dong-eun (Song Hye-kyo) arrives in town to start a new job as a teacher. Like a crazy K-pop fan, the walls and windows of her apartment are covered with photos. But these photos are of the group of individuals who cruelly bullied her in high school.
● The opening episodes shift between the present and the past to show the bullying. I am sure what is depicted (and worse) has happened in real life, and screenwriter Kim Eun-sook actually took some inspiration from a real case, but the way it is executed is probably too simple. It is as if the writer and director want to show Dong-eun having been intensely bullied for no reason as an easy way to elicit sympathy for her and hatred for the five bullies who, by the way, used a curling iron. It is not cheaply done but it is somewhat simplistic. Eventually, Dong-eun quit school, declaring to the bullies that she will go after them.
● What follows is a straightforward revenge drama. The most complicated thing is remembering all the names and trying to match the faces of the five teenage bullies to their corresponding adult counterparts. The group is led by Park Yeon-jin, the other four being Jeon Jae-joon, Lee Sa-ra, Son Myeong-oh and Choi Hye-jeong.
● Despite the plot and characters being somewhat simple, it is overall captivating enough with enough elements that at least try to mask its simplicity. (Examples of both are discussed below.)
● Dong-eun’s revenge doesn’t begin with her five targets right away. One of the realistic things about this story is it does show that bullying persists because parents, teachers and the police permit it. Dong-eun’s initial target is the teacher who ignored her pleas for help and then another official in order to get a position at the school that Yeon-jin’s young daughter attends.
● As the plot progresses, Dong-eun deals with other characters too so the series tries to keep it fresh in that respect.
● Dong-eun also uses Joo Yeo-jung (Lee Do-hyun), a doctor and son of the director of a large hospital. He doesn’t mind being used and has his own backstory that fuels his desire to help Dong-eun. Whilst the plot can definitely use such a character, it feels a bit convenient and he comes across as a bit of a filler character (even if he is). Thankfully, Lee Do-hyun plays him well and the romantic undertone between Dong-eun and Yeo-jung is not overdone.
● Dong-eun also uses housewife Kang Hyun-nam (Yeom Hye-ran) to follow and photograph her targets. Hyun-nam is a victim of domestic violence so she wants Dong-eun deal with her husband in exchange. Hyun-nam does not come across as much of a filler as Yeo-jung since her work actually puts her in danger.
● Dong-eun is, as expected, a person who is always on guard. Yeo-jung and Hyun-nam are characters used to get her to open up. This character development is not something that is intensely focused on, which is not a bad thing because it’s just cringe if not done well.
● Thankfully, the series does not have Dong-eun remain in the shadows as she executes her plan. The intrigue, perhaps paradoxically, comes from her announcing her presence to her five targets quite early, so both her targets and the audience then wonder what game she is playing.
● Dong-eun certainly has a game mapped out but it only seems complicated at times because it is gradually revealed. One can guess that Dong-eun has anticipated some of the antagonists’ moves and, of course, the show sometimes presents those instances as an uncertainty—that is, is Dong-eun being played or is she prepared for it? Either way, it’s still somewhat simple as things happen almost step-by-step and neatly.
● The five bullies, particularly the leader Yeon-jin (Im Ji-yeon), have not changed for the better. They are basically taller and better dressed versions of their younger selves. Some people are like that so it is plausible, but it is rather simple for dramatic purposes. They have no redeeming qualities which, as Dong-eun admits, makes it all easier.
● The one interesting character is Yeon-jin’s husband Ha Do-young (Jung Sung-il). Like Yeon-jin, he has a privileged background and if he’s her husband, he can’t be that good. That said, he is not without decency. He is probably not the smartest person but he is not stupid either and he knows there is much he doesn’t know. He bides his time. Jung Sung-il plays him as a cool guy who tries not to reveal his hand, perhaps a little wooden at times even if it is deliberate, but he makes it work.
● Despite most characters being written somewhat simply, the series gets away with it because the performances are solid. The whole cast really sells it, particularly those who play the antagonists as they look like they really enjoy playing total pricks.
● The cinematography and editing are effective, with a good mix of wider shots at different angles versus tighter close-ups, whether they be two shots or one shots, as well as some use of dolly and handheld. Tighter shots seem to be used more liberally. In any case, the editing is seamless so it works without unnecessarily drawing attention to itself. This avoids being pretentious but it might also seem ordinary to some. If anything, it could use a little more stylization.
● As if to make up for the somewhat simple plot and characters, the series tries a little too hard to be dark and edgy with the bullying and the swearing and whatnot. There are even soliloquy-like scenes that are trying too hard. Fortunately, there are merely a few.
● Thematically, it is an obvious commentary on those who use their wealth to get away with their bullying and the negligence of authorities. Apart from possibly the title, there are also occasional religious references, particularly to ideas like fate, divine presence, divine justice and the like. These are seemingly just thrown out there and they lack focus.
● Overall, it has good production with good performances. It’s nothing to rave about but it is just captivating enough to keep one watching to the end which, like the way Dong-eun dispatches people, is nice and neat.
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