The Best Netflix K-Drama You’re Not Watching Takes Revenge to A Whole New Level
Glory be to the vengeful spirit.
The Glory — Netflix’s beautiful, brutal revenge drama about a woman who devotes her life to bringing her high school bullies to justice — is back today with the second half of its story.
The first eight episodes dropped at the end of last year, quickly moving onto the streamer’s Global Top Ten list, and staying there for five weeks. Today, we get the rest of Moon Dong-eun’s (Song Hye-kyo) story, which means, if you haven’t been watching, now is the time to start.
When we first meet Moon Dong-eun, she is just a kid. A teenager, trying to make it through school on her own. Her parents are unavailable — sometimes physically, always emotionally — which means Dong-eun has to fend for herself. This would be hard enough, but her struggle takes on a greater weight when rich classmate Park Yeon-jin (Lim Ji-yeon) decides to make Dong-eun her next target. Yeon-jin has a bright, well-resourced future as a member of the upper class, and she’s preparing for it by using the social power she already holds to victimize students who don’t come from privilege. With the help of her friend-group, she terrorizes Dong-eun, searing her skin with curling iron again and again until her skin is covered in burn wounds.
When Dong-eun reaches out to the adults in her life (her homeroom teacher, the police), they don’t care — or, in her teacher’s case, are actively angry that she complained at all. She contemplates death by suicide, but something keeps her going: the thought of revenge. The first episode follows Dong-eun’s course after she drops out of school. From that moment, she begins coming up with a plan to make her abusers feel as much pain as she felt as a powerless kid. It won’t be quick. It will take years. She will have to learn how to play Go. But, to Dong-eun, it is a reason to stay alive.
If that sounds heavy, it is. But The Glory is surprisingly watchable, even for those who understandably don’t like to see the brutal torture of kids, by kids, depicted on screen. Most of the bullying scenes are confined to the first few episodes and, after that, it gets pretty damn cathartic. It’s relatively rare to find a women-centric TV series that grants its protagonist the authority to seek revenge without remorse, and The Glory does so with glee.
There’s been a lot written about why K-dramas have become so popular outside of Korea. I think there are myriad, complex reasons for the hallyu — and I’ve written elsewhere about some of them — but we don’t talk enough about how K-dramas in particular are good at tapping into anxieties, anger, and fantasies related to class. In the U.S., we have shows like Succession, which are about the terribleness of the rich and powerful. In Korea, there are shows like Squid Game, which not only make it clear who the bad guys are, but make it seem incredibly uncool to be one of them. (Not to be confused with the K-dramas that are about eschewing further injustices and abuses at the hands of the rich and powerful by getting one of them to fall in love with you.) K-dramas like The Glory and Squid Game refuse to give the rich the power of being the protagonist. In The Glory, Dong-eun’s remorseless former abusers are characters with interiority and complexity, but they never get to be the main characters. The glamor they pay for with the money they were born into makes them ugly rather than aspirational.
In K-dramas, there is almost always a person from outside the circles of power to act as a protagonist we can root for — whether they get what they want or not. In The Glory, it’s Moon Dong-eun. She’s not the most likable of protagonists, nor is she trying to be. She is a protagonist for those of us who are angry too, and who don’t know where to put that anger. Angry about the injustices and inequalities in the world that go willfully ignored by so many of those with the power to correct them. Stories can’t save us on their own, but they can offer catharsis while we pursue real-world solutions that might. If you’re angry and too tired to enact your own revenge against those in power who have remorselessly wronged you, check out The Glory.
The Glory is now streaming on Netflix.