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Song Hye-kyo as bullying victim Moon Dong-eun in a still from Netflix K-drama The Glory.

Review | Netflix K-drama review: The Glory – Song Hye-kyo plays a bullying victim bent on revenge who discovers new passions in life

  • In the hit Netflix series The Glory, Song Hye-kyo stars as Moon Dong-eun, who sets out to get revenge on her former school bullies and tormentors
  • Though she thinks her life ended during that terrible period, the skills she has learned and the people she meets to make her revenge a success prove otherwise

This article contains spoilers.

4/5 stars

“Seek revenge and you should dig two graves, one for yourself.” As this famous quote – the provenance of which is unclear, though some attribute it to Chinese philosopher Confucius – suggests, the desire to get even after being wronged is powerful but you should be careful what you wish for.

In the hit Netflix series The Glory Song Hye-kyo plays Moon Dong-eun, a girl who was brutally bullied in school and grows into a woman whose sole purpose in life is to get back at her tormentors. It is the latest in a line of ferocious South Korean revenge dramas.

Revenge factors into many Korean dramas, such as the recent run of handsome vigilante stories like Vincenzo and Taxi Driver, but The Glory calls back to a slightly older and darker strand of Korean revenge stories, seen in classic films such as Oldboy, Lady Vengeance and A Bittersweet Life.

These are tales of people who seek revenge for themselves and understand the cost of doing so – forfeiting their own lives, figuratively, but often literally as well.

We do not know if Dong-eun will die at the end of her quest, should she complete it, and we likely will not find out until the end of season two, out later this year. Regardless, there is little doubt that she has no plans for any kind of post-revenge life.

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Yet the funny thing about life is that you cannot plan for it. You do not know what will happen or what new feelings and desires you may develop along the way.

After dropping out of high school, Dong-eun’s every move has been dictated by her epic vendetta, but this vendetta entails meeting new people and acquiring new skills and these add new variables to her life.

Dong-eun may think that her life ended during that terrible period in school and that everything she has done or felt since then has been intractably connected to it, but life is far more complex than that. Life does not care about your feelings, or how hurt or content you may be; it keeps laying new roots.

Lee Do-hyun (left) as Joo Yeo-jung and Song Hye-kyo as Moon Dong-eun in a still from The Glory.

For Dong-eun, those roots include new passions that crop up as a result of her vendetta: playing go, and Joo Yeo-jung (Lee Do-hyun).

Go is the chess-like Korean board game that Dong-eun spends years mastering to draw the attention of Ha Do-yoon (Jung Sung-il), the husband of Park Yeon-jin (Lim Ji-yeon), the chief architect of her torment.

Speaking of architects, Dong-eun dreamed of being one before being consumed by revenge. Go is all about “building territories”, she explains to Do-yoon, a real estate tycoon, when she admits to him that she learned the game to approach him, and to herself that she fell in love with it along the way. Try as she might, that old architecture dream has not completely crumbled.

Lim Ji-yeon as Park Yeon-jin in a still from The Glory.

The person who taught Dong-eun about “building territories”? That would be Yeo-jung, the medical student who taught her to play go during weekly sessions in a park – the same park that Do-yoon converted in a tribute to the game he loves, and in which Dong-eun reveals to him her true intentions.

It might be a little too early to call Yeo-jung one of Dong-eun’s passions, but things certainly seem to be heading in that direction, if only she will allow herself it. For his part, Yeo-jung is clearly enamoured with her. “I’ll be your killer,” he promises, after Dong-eun disrobes to reveal to him her body full of scars.

The most positive relationship in Dong-eun’s life is one that emerges in one of her coldest moments.

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While searching through someone’s trash she is caught red-handed by housekeeper Kang Hyun-nam (Yeom Hye-ran). Hyun-nam has an abusive husband at home and, rather than report Dong-eun, the two become allies when Dong-eun agrees to kill her husband.

Despite the dark beginning to their relationship, the lonely Hyun-nam quickly grows attached to Dong-eun and tries to be her friend. Dong-eun is initially hesitant but eventually indulges Hyun-nam’s advances, which take the form of food, though she tries to close herself off again later, remembering the point their alliance is driving them to.

When it comes to dark Korean revenge stories, the protagonists generally seek the deaths of those who wronged them, but Dong-eun has yet to demonstrate the same kind of bloodlust. Her desire is more subtle and more in line with the pain she has been subjected to.

Song Hye-kyo (left) as Moon Dong-eun and Jung Sung-il as Ha Do-yoon in a still from The Glory.

In Dong-eun’s case, “a life for a life” means destroying the lives of her former bullies rather than depriving them of them. She wants to pluck the people around Yeon-jin away from her, and leave her totally alone.

Yeon-jin and her posse of twisted friends, including sometime lover Jeong Jae-jun (Park Sung-hoon), take what they have for granted. It is only following the reappearance of Dong-eun in their lives that they come to realise the value of what they have, just as they are about to lose those things.

For Jae-jun, that is Yeon-jin’s daughter Ha Ye-sol (Oh Ji-yul), who he did not realise was his, and for Yeon-jin it is her husband, Do-yoon. She assumed theirs was a status marriage, and only figures out how much he cares for her just before her true face is revealed to him.

Song Hye-kyo (left) as Moon Dong-eun and Yeom Hye-ran as Kang Hyun-nam in a still from The Glory.

Dong-eun’s emotional revenge saga will continue later this year in season two of The Glory. Only time will tell if redemption is also on the cards for her.

The Glory is streaming on Netflix.