The Glory premiered on Netflix on December 30 and quickly climbed the ratings charts, its release so masterfully planned with all eight episodes uploaded on the streaming site the following day. It’s a fitting end to Song Hye Kyo’s cellar dwelling days.
By January 2, Korea Joong Ang Daily reported that the revenge drama had ranked first on the lists of streaming services in 10 regions, including Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines.
The drama is about a poor teenage girl who dreams of being an architect. In school, she is subjected to extreme bullying by a gang of wealthy students. A few years later she returns to carry out an elaborate revenge plan on her tormentors. First, she enters the perpetrators’ world through the game of Go. Her main goal: to engage the real estate tycoon-husband of her main tormentor Yeon Jin (Lim Ji Yeong) in a winner-take-all series. Then, she inches menacingly closer by taking a job as homeroom teacher at Semyeng Elementary school, where Yeon Jin’s child is enrolled.
The Glory is exactly what Song Hye Kyo needed to reignite a career that had been in the doldrums. Her last outing, Now We Are Breaking Up, left netizens thinking that despite her much vaunted beauty, she had lost her drawing power.
Critics and netizens have lamented that she seemed stuck in her trademark melodramas playing the beautiful but stoic, accomplished older woman in a glamorous world where she is paired with younger, hot OTPs (one true pairings), the heartthrobs and the oppas of the season. For a time, she did get away with that tried and tested formula.
Then 2022 saw the military enlistment of almost an entire generation of younger, taller, virile oppas who made the hearts of netizens flutter and heated up the K-Drama world. Viewers were then left wondering what next for Song Hye Kyo, whom to pair her with. Then came the shocker that is The Glory.
Taking on this dark role, SHK bit the bullet, stony mien and all. Shedding her glamorous image, her body bears horrific scars, virtual maps of the torture she endured in the hands of her tormentors. Her avenging Dong Eun will stay in viewers’ memories long after the drama’s last episode rolls.
That there are no over-the-top theatrics when she meets her tormentors years later makes the scene more striking
Watching her, hardened by the abuse she’s endured, seemingly dead on the inside and keeping a passive, haunted visage for most of the drama, we forget the beautiful Song Hye Kyo and see Dong Eun instead. The hard glint in her eyes when she makes her adversaries squirm and the rare smiles she bestows Jo Yeo Jeong (Lee Do Hyun), who is smitten with her, are this actor’s shining moments. That there are no over-the-top theatrics when she meets her tormentors years later, but only a few menacing words, makes the scene more striking.
Like dramas in the revenge genre, The Glory does not really tell a new story, but its writer Kim Eun Sook (Mr. Sunshine, Goblin, Descendants of the Sun) and director Ahn Gil Ho (Record of Youth, Memories of the Alhambra, Forest of Secrets, and Happiness, among others) take a very unsettling and gory premise way over the edge, throwing into the mix intriguing characters all ably essayed by a strong ensemble. A pervading sense of disquiet and fear thus looms over every episode.
The writing is grim and camera work is stark as it pans over the horrific scars on the arms, legs, and back of the protagonist, making viewers feel the pain as the curling iron burns her flesh. But just as the viewer feels she can’t take one more cruel scene, the writer throws in an unexpected display of mirth. Take that frame where Dong Eun’s cohort, the abused wife who wanted her husband killed, chortles and can’t stop laughing. Or those moments when we see Dong Eun soften as she asks about the former’s daughter. A fine balancing act writer Kin Eun Sook does, even as we see episode after episode of unspeakable violence.
The protagonist Moon Dong Eun (Song Hye Kyo) is subjected to such abject humiliation and extreme cruelty from the get-go that viewers are riveted to the scene, unable to blink as she is brutalized by five of her school mates (two of them male). The pacing and cinematography are deftly handled by its director, giving it the feel of a movie rather than a K-drama.
In The Glory, the bullying goes beyond the usual preying on a hapless victim, but escalates into unimaginable horror and torture perpetrated by sociopaths. You feel like screaming: Isn’t there anyone who will put a stop to this? The instrument of torture: the hot curling iron every teenager uses to glamorize herself.
Episode after episode, The Glory unreels graphic scenes, leaving the viewers horrified yet riveted to the violence onscreen. And it is not only in the hands of the gang that Dong Eun suffers. She has no one on her side except the school nurse who helps her report to school authorities. But, instead of investigating the matter, the assistant principal subjects Dong Eun to extreme physical assault. Other school teachers try to restrain him, but he is a wild animal on the rampage. The school nurse is forced to resign after the perpetrators’ rich and powerful parents do damage control.
School officials become party to a thorough whitewash of the case. In the withdrawal form Dong Eun signs, she names her tormentors and cites physical abuse as reason for leaving school. But “maladjustment” is instead stamped on the form. Her mother, who hardly cares, accepts the settlement money from her tormentors’ parents.
In episode after episode, The Glory unreels graphic scenes so that viewers are horrified but remain riveted to the violence onscreen
Once she leaves school, Dong Eun claws her way through physical, social, and economic privations and puts herself in a place where she is sure to sow fear in the heart of her main tormentor, Park Yeon Jin. She makes an appearance in such critical moments as the high school reunion where Yeon Jin is to receive an award as outstanding alumna. She says without blinking, “You have been my one dream from that day I left school.”
We see that through the years, little has changed among the gang of bullies; sociopaths even in high school, they are remorseless and unrepentant reprehensible adults. They live seemingly normal lives—go to church, have jobs (Yeon Jin is a weather reporter in a TV station where her husband plunks in huge investments), raise families—while keeping the lid on their dark past.
Given that as a high schooler, Yeon Jin, the protagonist’s chief tormentor, had nothing to fear being rich, entitled, and as the uncontested leader of bullies, viewers feel a sense of satisfaction seeing her dissemble in the face of Dong Eun’s unrelenting revenge.
After going through all the eight episodes from the vantage point of the protagonist and the gang of sociopaths that turn her into a very lethal and efficient avenging machine, we take a closer look at the cast that plays very significant roles in making The Glory one of the best K-dramas of the year—the actors that gave it back to Song Hye Kyo frame after frame.
First off, 33-year-old Lim Je Yeon takes on her first villain role as Park Yeon Jin. Before The Glory, she has played mostly gentle and graceful lead roles or supporting characters. She was in Money Heist Korea: Joint Economic Area. From doing musicals and theater, she ventured into short films and television. Then in 2010, she diversified her filmography and worked in erotic themed dramas. In 2014, she headlined the erotic film Obsessed, earning for herself the title Queen of Explicit Scenes.
Lim Je Yeon was so thoroughly evil as Yeon Jin that she scared the living daylights out of viewers
But The Glory, where she played a thoroughly evil antagonist to Song Hye Kyo’s character, was an entirely new experience for Lim Je Yeon. “I was drawn and shocked after reading the script,” she said in an interview. And, she did more than dare take on the role of arch villain. She was so thoroughly evil as Yeon Jin that she scared the living daylights out of viewers, effectively serving as foil to Song Hye Kyo’s revenge-driven Dong Eun so that critics dubbed her “the show stealer.”
Writer Kim Eun Sook said in an interview, “I decided to take the first risk of casting her (Lim Je Yeon) as the antagonist although there were concerns she might mess up, this being her first time to play villain.” LJY proved she was worth the risk, wiping out all concerns as soon as she appeared in the first brutal scene.
Equally unforgettable and contributing in large measure to the drama’s chilling effect on viewers is Shin Ye Eun, who plays the high school version of Yeon Jin. Her villain is evil to the core and most terrifying. Jung Ji So plays Dong Eun as a high school student. Acting with her eyes, she ably shows the desperation and anger building up in her young mind as she is subjected to one brutal pass of the curling iron after another.
Lee Do Hyun (Youth of May and 18 Again) plays Ju Yeo Jeong. As the doctor whose first encounter with Dong Eun is in a hospital ward where he first sees the horrific scars on her arms, Lee Do Hyun plays a pivotal role in the drama and Dong Eun’s revenge on her tormentors. He also gives her lessons in the game of Go, a vital part of her scheme to enter the world of her tormentors.
Netizens have decried the lack of chemistry between him and Song Hye Kyo, but The Glory is no melodrama, and LDH’s character is not that of a hunk paired with a glamorous older woman. In the first few episodes, there already are hints of his own dark past—the son of a doctor whose husband was murdered—that would figure in Part 2 of the drama that goes onstream in March. This early, we may expect the writer to throw in some surprises where his character is concerned.
Jung Sung Il (Our Blues) as Ha Do Yeong, the real estate tycoon-husband of Yeon Jin, essays his role with such quiet but simmering intensity that the scenes where he faces a cool and calculating Dong Eun across the Go board give that feel of danger. Netizens were also quick to note the strong chemistry between him and Song Hye Kyo.
As Part 1 of the drama ended on the vague note of how Ha Do Yeong will figure in a face-off between Dong Eun and Yeon Jin, viewers also eagerly await whether or not Ha Do Yeong will end up taking the side of Dong Eun. The last scene of Episode 8 has HDY entering the apartment of Dong Eun, where Yeon Jin, after breaking and entering, is looking intently at the diagrams and pictures on the walls showing Dong Eun’s revenge plan.
Other notable members of the cast are Yeom Hye Ran as Kang Hyun Nam, Dong Eun’s cohort and ally, and the gang of bullies Park Sung Hoon as Jeon Jae Joon, Kim Hi Eo Ra as Lee Sa Ra, Cha Joo Young as Choi Hye Jeong, and Kim Gun Woo as Son Myeong Oh. Kim Jung Young is Park Sang Im, Ju Yeo Jeong’s mother.
As we wait for Part 2 on Netflix in March, we are keeping our fingers crossed that the next eight episodes will allow Moon Dong Eun to finally rest her mind and heart and leave the past behind, as the plastic surgeon Ju Yeo Jeong heals her scars.
Here are some netizens’ comments on The Glory:
“Song Hye Kyo’s acting is miles better here than in Now We Are Breaking Up… She’s still playing another variation of the same character archetype she prefers—stoic and emotionless female—but there’s a lot more depth to Moon Dong Eun. Her deadness really works for a character that’s dead inside…The younger antagonist was frightening to watch. The antagonist’s husband is hot, hot, hot.” — Peanut Gallery
“Song Hye Kyo’s acting is much better than expected, but that is not saying a lot. Her stoic way of acting finally met a script it’s called for.” — Bro