The Weekend Binge: "Anna"
The 8-episode series is a glimpse of how small fibs grow into enormous lies, and how one woman builds an entire life by stealing it first.
The Plot (with minor spoilers)
*There are two versions of Anna out there – there is the hotly contested 6-episode set which its creators have denounced, and the 8-episode director’s cut, which we reviewed for this article.
If you must watch Anna, we highly recommend going for the 8-episode version which has better storytelling, more critical scenes, and a lot more cohesion.
Superstar Bae Suzy plays Lee Yumi, a girl who grows up in humble circumstances. Intelligent, hard-working, and quite perceptive, Yumi quickly learns that there are benefits in telling little lies and that she can get away with them as well. She lies about getting into university and soon lands a boyfriend who might just be her ticket out of poverty. However, he finds out that she’s been faking her way all this time, and immediately breaks up with her. Mortified at being caught, she returns home to live a quiet, nondescript life as a blue-collar worker.
After a string of unremarkable gigs, Yumi lands a job at a furniture exporting company. Despite her perseverance and diligence, Yumi still can’t help but covet the glamorous and expensive life that her spoiled boss, Anna, leads.
But after an unfair incident, Yumi decides to leave that job and start over once again. After a string of more misfortunes, she realizes if she wants a better life, she should simply create it. Realizing that she still has Anna’s personal documents, she decides to exploit them and live as Anna Lee herself.
As “Anna,” Yumi successfully transforms herself into a “lecturer” on Joseon art. Suddenly, her beauty and work are regarded with awe and respect. She is no longer an invisible blue-collar worker, slaving away for minimal wages. She’s now a professor, impeccably-dressed and well-regarded, with a beautiful studio of her own. Her life now sparkles with the upper crust and lives far from the demi-monde. She tops it all off by marrying an aggressive young CEO who might just be the next mayor of Seoul. All the years of lying have given her a sense of savvy that allows her to use Anna’s credentials, background, and aura to her own advantage without raising any alarms.
It would have been all good had she not run into the real Anna Lee, who now threatens to expose Yumi’s fake life.
Now that Yumi is at the cusp of becoming a very public figure, will she be able to lie her way out of this whole mess? Or will she have to pay the price, and watch everything she’s worked for burn under the harsh light of the truth?
We have always been fascinated with fakes and frauds, especially of the female sort with minds devious and cunning enough to get what they want. We were fascinated when Anna Sorokin convinced New York high society that she was the German heiress Anna Delvey. We were surprised that the 2019 Hustlers movie was actually based on a real group of strippers who scammed Wall Street men for cash. We even marveled at the massive lies Elizabeth Holmes, the “female Steve Jobs,” told and retold in order to build her dubious biotechnology empire.
It is in this company of charlatans that the show finds itself, but with a refreshing twist: as a character, Anna isn’t a sociopath nor a mad genius. She also isn’t an aggressively malicious charmer nor a femme fatale. The fake Anna – for all her duplicity and desperation – is merely a woman who got away with some lies and could keep getting away with them, until she couldn’t.
Bae Suzy delivers a tremendous performance as a complex fake. As Yumi and then “Anna,” Suzy manages to keep a liar merely just that – a liar. She’s not without remorse or guilt, and she even reacts with incredible dread when on the verge of being found out. Her Anna is not a simplistic psychopathic charmer or even some sort of genius who can conjure solutions from a gifted mind. In fact, Yumi’s landlady merely calls her “someone who was told they were smart.” She doesn’t even resort to overtly sexualizing herself to get her way.
In fact, “Anna” succeeds because she's such a relatable and ordinary liar. Instead of watching a remorseless charlatan rip off one man to another, we have instead a very human interpretation of what a life built on a lie is like. In fact, Yumi’s frosty exterior conceals her deep desperation to keep looking the part, as well as her daily fear of being found out. Even the lengths she finds herself going through to keep impressing people around her are all logical but understandable consequences of the life she has chosen to steal.
But it isn’t only Bae Suzy’s performance that’s noteworthy. Kim Joon-han, who plays her husband with secrets of his own, is equally compelling. Jung Eun-chae, who plays the real Anna Lee, is also a great combination of a spoiled brat and a frustrated mother. Even when Park Ye-young, who plays her journalist friend, discovers Yumi’s secrets, we are as befuddled as she is. There’s really no one out of sync in this cast – they all deliver believable performances that keep the audiences guessing about their motives as well.
There’s also ample time given to explore why these equally greedy characters are the way they are: from growing up poor to being unloved, their backstories are given ample focus so they too, become fully-fleshed out people and not merely dismissible sociopaths. Through Lee Joo-young, who is both the writer and director of the series, everyone in Anna has been written to suit a modern, non-makjang sensibility that can make us feel strongly about them instead of just watching them escape their pathos.
The show is quite engrossing, especially in the second half where Yumi desperately bargains with the real Anna and her usual frosty facade begins to crack. From establishing an atmosphere filled with dread to raising the stakes when all the lies get found out, Director Lee Joo-young shows she has a firm grip on her storytelling and tension.
However, there are some leaps of imagination you’ll have to play along with. For instance, Yumi attends a Yale alumni reunion with no one recognizing her. Anyone who’s attended a class reunion would know how easy it is to find a “classmate’ that didn’t belong. It’s also hard to believe that a university wouldn’t do enough due diligence and simply accept her as a lecturer (any decent HR person in the academe would call up references).
But if you are willing to see past these gaping loopholes and focus instead on the earnest performances of Bae Suzy and the entire cast, Anna is quite the intriguing watch from start to finish and could very well be one of the rare binge-able gems of 2022.