IN one more consistently marketed and hyped project characteristic of commerce-driven K-dramas, the moguls of networks and streaming sites gave viewers another exhilarating ride in the runup to Christmas 2022— Reborn Rich featuring a very bankable and hot Song Joong Ki. (SJK is in the headlines this week—he announced his marriage to Katy Louise Sanders and that they’re expecting a baby.)
Its first episode was streamed on Disney+ on Nov. 18, 2022. Perhaps heeding complaints of SJK’s fans, after a few episodes, it was streamed on VIU as well.
Viewership ratings started at a decent 6.1 percent, but by the end of the series (Ep 16) on Christmas day, it had climbed to 26.9 percent (Nielsen Korea), besting Skycastle as the series with the highest viewership ratings in recent years. In its own network JTBC, it surpassed record breaker World of the Married.
Netizens had eagerly awaited Reborn Rich for several reasons:
🔺 To see again Song Joong Ki —last viewed in the title role of Vincenzo, streamed from February to May 2021 and ended with 14.6 percent viewership rating;
🔺 SJK has retained his boyish charms, partly the reason he became a hallyu star, and has sharpened his acting chops;
🔺The story arc of Reborn Rich is very tantalizing, making viewers hang on to the last episode. Who, after all, wouldn’t want to be reincarnated with loads of money (600 million dollars), and the power and pelf that goes with it.
Also a big boost—the 2017 web novel on which it is based was a hit because it depicted a chaebol family in realistic setting, with its offshore investments, cutthroat marketing, and extreme rivalries within the clan.
The writers seamlessly wove into the story major historical events in South Korea in the 1980s
The writers of Reborn Rich seamlessly wove into the story major historical events in South Korea in the 1980s, the drama’s time span. There were concerns then about the chaebol families dominating the economy. Later, this was identified as the main cause of the country’s 1997 economic crisis.
Then, to make the drama more enticing, the one who is Reborn Rich is Yoon Hyun Woo (Song Joong Ki), the underprivileged, very loyal employee, subservient to the family’s whims and desires. As manager of Soonyang Group’s Future Asset Management Department, he is charged with recovering 600 million dollars in slush funds hidden overseas by the chaebol’s grand old man—the cunning Jin Yang Cheol (charmingly and astutely played by veteran actor Lee Sung Min).
Yoon Hyun Woo is servant extraordinaire. In the chaebol culture, even someone at the top of the corporate ladder is a servant as far as family members are concerned. Heirs of the patriarch, no matter how incompetent, expect to inherit the business and fortune, and are not averse to using extra legal means to do so. The manager remains a slave even as he climbs to the top, then he reaches the dead end. Family members (the legal wife, three sons, one daughter and their spouses; an assortment of grandchildren and their spouses as well) play cat and mouse, shifting alliances as the drama unfolds.
The women (the grandmother, the only daughter married to a politician, the daughters in law, and the wife of the eldest grandson) also maneuver behind the scenes with the ultimate goal of placing their man at the helm of Soonyang Group.
Yoon Hyun Woo lives by three rules as he navigates the ostensibly glossy but murky world of this chaebol family: 1) Never refuse an order given by any family member. 2) Never ask questions. 3) Never make personal judgments.
He ventures abroad to recover the slush fund; he knows where it is. Six hundred million is deposited in his personal account to be turned over to grandfather Jin Yang Cheol. But, on his way back, he is betrayed, framed up for embezzlement, and killed. Shot pointblank, he falls into the sea. He is dead—supposedly.
This is where Reborn Rich starts. Hereon, this intricate chaebol drama moves at breakneck speed as Song Joong Ki (also as the reincarnated grandson Jin Do Joon) flits from one episode to another in a whirl of time travel, power play and shifting alliances between characters, spanning years, while the grandfather is alive, and more so after his death. The series can get confusing so that one needs to backtrack several episodes before moving forward.
But the groaning buffet that producing director Jung Dae Yoon (I’m Not a Robot, W: Two Worlds, She Was Pretty) and writer Kim Tae Hee (Sungkyunkwan Scandal, Designated Survivor)—both masters of the genre— laid out on a long table with juicy entrées week after week, becomes a veritable feast befitting the holiday season.
Reborn Rich’s melange of money, feuding family members, murder and revenge is an intimate peek into the glossy but brittle world of a chaebol family.
How the murdered Yoon Hyun Woo is reincarnated is the drama’s juiciest offering
How the murdered Yoon Hyun Woo is reincarnated is the drama’s juiciest offering. True to the the web novel (Chaeboljib Maknaeadeul published in Kakao, 2017-2018) on which it is based, Yoon Hyun Woo comes back as Jin Do Joon, the young grandson and favorite of grandfather Jin Yang Cheol. He first appears as a kid (ably played by Kim Kang Hoon) in the car of Jin Yoon Ki (Yoon Je Moon), eldest son of JYC. Jin Yoon Ki is the father of eldest grandson Jin Sung Joon (Kim Nam Hee).
What follows is episode after episode of cliffhangers, with morsels thrown into the cauldron that viewers have to watch out for so they don’t lose track of the narrative. As it reaches the climax, the drama becomes nothing short of enthralling. Song Joong Ki doesn’t miss a beat acting out his dual roles. The whole ensemble that is the chaebol clan stirs the pot deviously, contributing to the box office appeal.
The main bone of contention is who will be the successor of grandfather Jin Yang Cheol. The rule of primogeniture in Soonyang stipulates that it is the oldest son who takes over, then after him, the oldest grandson.
But, grandfather had another thing going; he changed his will, abolished the primogeniture rule. Jin Do Joon, his favorite (but not eldest) grandson, holds a special spot in his heart. JDJ is brilliant, hardworking and serves Soonyang well. He is also ambitious and outmaneuvers oldest grandson Jin Sung Joon, his largely incompetent uncles and the aunt who is mainly ignored.
However favored Jin Do Joon is, his father Jin Yoon Ki (Kim Young Jae) is not the biological son of the matriarch, Kim Hyun (Lee Pil Ok); he was born out of wedlock.
JYK’s birth mother is the grandfather’s true love, but this is only hinted at. JYK was raised willingly by the patriarch’s wife like her own son, or so we thought. To get out of the way of his half-siblings, JYK chooses a career outside the chaebol. He marries outside their circle and instead makes a career in films.
He could ‘foresee the future; but of course, since he came from it
Since his teens, Jin Do Joon (by then the already reincarnated Yoon Hyun Woo) has been winning the favor of the grandfather because he could “foresee” the future; but of course, since he came from it (his past lifetime, remember). It gets juicier! Unknown to his uncles and main antagonist (oldest grandson JSJ), the reincarnated Yoon Hyun Woo is actually spinning the web of revenge to take over the Soonyang Group, scheming to put his uncles and eldest cousin behind bars for corporate crimes.
He is also avenging his murder. Which member of the chaebol family had him killed? The viewer is sure to binge-watch just to find out.
In one important scene the grandfather brings the teenaged Jin Do Joon home to the family mansion for the family dinner. He instructs his wife henceforth to set a place at table for Jin Do Joon and his family. The reactions of the rest, especially the wife, foreshadow what happens later. This shows the director’s deft hands in steering the drama to its conclusion.
Into this labyrinthine chaebol world enters competent and zealous prosecutor Min Yeong Seo (Shin Hyun Bin). She has found evidence about the 600 million dollar slush fund and is on its trail on orders of higher-ups. She is also the fiancee of Yoon Hyun Woo. As Jin Do Joon is investigated for his involvement in the slush fund mess and at the same time becomes a witness to the murder of Yoon Hyun Woo, their worlds alternately merge and disintegrate.
This is where netizens cry foul over the way the writers twisted the plot of Reborn Rich. It did not end the way the popular Web novel did—with Yoon Hyun Woo and Min Yeong Seo resuming their relationship. Despite its very high ratings, viewers were divided—there were some irate comments from netizens—over the surprise ending.
Notwithstanding those, however, some viewers consider Reborn Rich as a good watch.
“For a good portion of its run, I found Reborn Rich to be an utterly engaging, absorbing roller coaster of a ride. With fun twists and turns that I mostly expect(ed), and some excellent performances by the cast (Lee Sung Min as grandfather is stellar in this), I found myself lapping this up with relish each and every week.”—The Fangirl website.
We will not reveal very crucial details. We untangled the knots in this web that the writer and directors spun so we can better appreciate the brilliant work of an ensemble (production staff and actors) who worked to make the drama a resounding success.
Take note: this is not a romcom
A few points before we give our verdict on Reborn Rich:
▪️ On the oft-repeated comments of diehard fans of Song Joong Ki that there was no chemistry between him and Shin Hyun Bin, take note: this is not a romcom. There was absolutely no need for sparks to fly whenever the main leads were in a scene together. SHB is a competent actor who played her role so appropriately. She did so well in the well-received and highly rated Hospital Playlist so she certainly deserved the female lead role here.
▪️Song Joong Ki remains hot and has retained the boyish charm viewers so love. But, he has also become a seasoned actor who can ably portray edgy characters. He can look menacing in one scene, then devilishly charming in the next. At this point in his multi-faceted career, he has no need for an OTP (original true partner) to keep viewers hooked.
▪️We hope veteran actor Lee Sung Min brings home an award for his memorable portrayal of grandfather Jin Yang Cheol. Some of the most heartwarming scenes are those he shares with Song Joong Ki’s Jin Do Joon. A critic has dubbed these scenes as “an acting duel of a veteran actor and a hallyu star.”
Our verdict: Reborn Rich certainly is one drama viewers must watch if they want proof of why, despite some rough spots in his career (i.e. his divorce from his wife and OTP Song Hye Kyo that left many K-drama fans in the lurch), Song Joong Ki has cemented his place in K-dramaland.
The promise SJK showed very early in his career—in the 2010 sageuk or historical drama Sungkyunkwan Scandal (written by the same writer as Reborn Rich) and his sensitive portrayal in the 2012 drama The Innocent Man, and 2012 film Werewolf Boy, first screened in the Toronto International Film Festival, then the 17th Busan International Film Festival—certainly augured his present stature as an actor of the first rank.