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The Weekend Binge: "The Glory"

Updated: May 6, 2023

The latest collab between writer Kim Eun-sook and actress Song Hye-kyo is a revenge drama that teases at a glorious victory at the end. Its first eight episodes dropped on Netflix last week, with the succeeding episodes coming in 2023. Does the show live up to all the hype?

The Plot

Bullied victim Moon Dong-eun (Song Hye-kyo) grows up and vows revenge on her former high school classmates. (This drama should come with a trigger warning for excessive bullying and physical abuse.)

The Review

The year has been chockfull of revenge dramas and there are a couple of elements that make it worthwhile. I try and break down what The Glory gets right… and doesn’t.

A lead to root for

Song Hye-kyo finally sheds her romantic leading lady status for a grittier and darker role. She delivers a believable performance as a traumatized woman who was bullied and physically abused by her high school classmates. Gone are the charming smiles and witty banter of “Beauty” (Song’s iconic character from Descendants of the Sun) and in its place are the steely looks and clipped undertones of woman who always seems to just be on the verge of a panic attack.

As the main lead, our sympathies are already with Moon Dong-eun. She’s poor and at the bottom of the high school food chain. She not only has to deal with her school bullies, she also has to survive an absentee mother, a physically abusive teacher, and some complicit adults around her. She has every right to demand justice and vengeance from her persecutors and we’re all here to see their downfall.

I especially love that Dong-eun’s character never uses her feminine wiles to exact revenge. Instead, she grows a spine, faces her bullies and turns the table on them, unscrupulously manipulating them to suit her plans.

Villain(s) we love to hate

Both adult and teenage versions of Dong-eun’s bullies, popular girl Park Yeon-jin (Lim Ji-yeon), wealthy hotshot Jeon Jae-joon (Park Sung-soon, Into the Ring), druggie Lee Sa-ra (Kim Hi-eora, Bad and Crazy), social climber Choi Hye-jeong (Cha Joo-young), and thug Son Myeong-oh (Kim Gun-woo) are worthy of being hated. That they get to grow up into prosperous adults without remorse for their past just wants to make us hate them all the more. They’re hardly living morally upright lives and there seems to be no room for redemption for any of them.

Intelligent schemes

What makes revenge dramas exciting is how the avenger plots and lays out schemes to entrap villains so that they can wallow in their misery. And this is where The Glory (so far) fails to live up to its hype.

Dong-eun returns to her hometown and exacts revenge… as a teacher. A teacher is hardly a powerful figure and is a very publicly visible one at that. A teacher, by any standards, also doesn’t make a lot of money—which is necessary if anyone wants to plot a high stakes revenge. It’s hard to buy Dong-eun’s explanation of her tutoring kids in her 20s to save up enough to buy two cars, rent two apartments, pay a hired hand, and all the other revenge related expenses.

Also, Dong-eun’s schemes are hardly entertaining nor nuanced. She basically lies around waiting for the villains to self-destruct before she pushes them over the edge a little.

Prolific k-drama writer Kim Eun-sook has a string of hits under her belt: Lovers in Paris (2004), Secret Garden (2010), The Heirs (2013), Descendants of the Sun (2016), Goblin (2016), Mr. Sunshine (2018), and The King: Eternal Monarch (2020). At her best, I have found her dialogue to be witty and entertaining; at her worst, her plots are convoluted but thin.

The Glory, unfortunately falls under both categories. There are seriously inspired and witty dialogue in many memorable scenes. However, the plot holes are glaring, subplot resolutions are simplistic and downright unbelievable, some characters defy all logical reasoning in decision making, and there’s so little payoff for the audiences.

Granted, the first season only has eight episodes and still has a long way to go before it resumes in March of 2023. But by this time, other revenge k-dramas already had at least one or two payback scenes. All we have in this one so far are a couple of “be afraid of me” conversations and one very unsatisfying death.

All in all, The Glory is mildly entertaining but still a long way off from being glorious.

8 episodes available on Netflix

Stream if you want to see Song Hye-kyo in a darker role.

Skip if you want a thrilling, scheming revenge tale.

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