Written by Kim Sun-sook
Directed by Ahn Gil-ho
Episodes : 8
Release Date: 29th December 2022
One might feel the need to stop watching The Glory after viewing its first episode. Scenes of bullying are a frequent occurance throughout the first instalment of the revenge drama, and while it’s very much laying down the groundwork for the plot to follow, it’s doesn’t make it any less tough to sit through. The depiction of school violence doesn’t just amount to the type of bullying scenes we’ve seen before; physical damage to the body and the mind are almost filmed and portrayed here in a manner more akin to a horror film.
It says a lot about how engrossing the series becomes that as much as you might want to stop there and then, especially during a graphic depiction of a curling iron being used to cause bodily harm, you’ll feel compelled to see where it’s going to go.
Where it does go is into the realm of an enthralling revenge saga. The biggest surprise here is that it’s coming from writer Kim Eun-sook whose list of credits prior to this are smash hit series such as Inheritors/The Heirs, Descendants of the Sun and The King: Eternal Monarch, but given that those shows were more romanticised and occasionally frothy concoctions (two of which were also excuses to gaze admiringly at Lee Min-ho), it comes as a shocking jolt to see this series get into the gutter with its increasingly complex themes in a violent and confrontational way.
Anyone going into this expecting it to become a variation of revenge movies such as Taken, Kill Bill or John Wick might be also taken aback that while its plot synopsis is all about its lead character on the quest for vengeance and retribution, it never for one minute becomes a set-piece filled action drama. I imagine it won’t descend into that for the second half of its season which is due to premiere in March 2023, but on the basis of this first half, it basically enjoys watching Song Hye-kyo play a character who is content to just gently goad her enemies and tormentors into potentially destroying themselves, icily threatening them with well chosen words and positioning herself into their lives to their increasing horror.
After spending her school time being bullied, tormented and basically tortured, Moon Dong-eun takes time in her life to improve her education and stature, with a little bit of blackmail here and there, so she can centre herself into the lives of those that made her own a living hell as a teenager.
There is a strong aura of Park Chan-wook here with its mixture of overt and simmering violence, with an attitude directed at an unequal social class that also recalls Bong Joon-ho. It’s reminiscent of the anger of Little Women, itself written by Jeong Seo-kyung who has written for many a Park Chan-wook movie. The anger of that series and its reliance on both emotional and physical violence wasn’t a shock given its author, but given that Kim Eun-sook’s previous credits include The Heirs which wasn’t afraid to enjoy the luxurious lifestyle of its characters, the anger directed at the antagonists here, their wealth and the fact that they believe that it allows them to get away with everything, makes this feel increasingly embittered. Social status is depicted as being craved and owned by the worst, and while Dong-eun’s motivations are for personal retribution, her story is dominated as much by the theme of ‘destroy the rich’.
Like the best South Korean revenge dramas (one could argue it shares stylistic and thematic DNA with Lady Vengeance), it’s anchored both philosophically and emotionally to a character who chooses psychology and manipulative tactics over guns and obvious carnage. The carnage itself comes from how she plans to bring her enemies down.
It’s powerful stuff, made even more so by a career best performance from Song Hye-kyo, whose previous credits also include frothier and enjoyable romantic comedy-dramas such as Encounter and Now, We Are Breaking Up. There’s a toughness here that is occasionally softened by a burgeoning friendship and possible romance with plastic surgeon Yeo-jeong (Lee Do-hyun) that is perhaps the one capitulation to the type of romantic tropes one expects from a K-drama, but even that is surrounded by a tragic and violent backstory for Yeo-jeong and an eagerness to get revenge by proxy as a result of a horrible loss in his own past.
Then there’s Dong-eun’s friendship with Kang Hyeon-nam (Yeom Hye-ran), whose connection with Dong-eun begins as a relationship of convenience before possibly becoming a tentative friendship, albeit one still anchored to a Hyeon-nam’s endurance of domestic violence from her husband and a promise from Dong-eun to kill him in return for her help. Yeom Hye-ran is great in the role and many of the series’ lighter moments come from her, but it’s offset by an unforgiving air to The Glory’s world, that even the light is tainted by an imbalance that wants to prey and hurt those who are perceived as weak or from a lower social rung on the ladder.
It gives the series a dark spark that is unwaveringly intense, but it also grips like a vice and by the time the eighth episode rolls around with its plethora of potential game changing twists, you’ll be livid that you have to wait a while to see how it will all end.