In a particularly disturbing scene from The Glory, Netflix’s latest original K-Drama, high school student Moon Dong-Eun (Jung Ji-So) asks her classmate and bully Park Yeon-Jin (Shin Ye-Eun) why she is being subjected to such extreme bullying. “Even if I do this, nothing will happen to me and nothing will change for you,” retorts Yeon-Jin, as she continues inflicting violence on Dong-Eun.
The Glory is not an easy watch, nor is it a run-of-the-mill revenge thriller. Queen Bee Yeon-Jin has nothing to fear. She is rich, entitled, and leads a clique comprising four others that picks on their underprivileged classmate Dong-Eun. The group is violent beyond measure and is confident of there being no repercussions for their actions. As Dong-Eun suffers at the hands of her bullies, she’s constantly reminded that no one will protect her. The school authorities, teachers, and her mother are all a part of a system that has wholly failed her. In some way or other, everyone around her is complicit in the horrors she is subject to.
The Glory (Korean)
Several K-Dramas have turned the spotlight on bullying in high schools, some more sensitively than others. In shows like the cult favourite Boys Over Flowers, the rich, entitled male lead is shown to lead a clique that often bullies their schoolmates, but we hardly delve further into this as the show progresses. Romance shows like True Beauty and My ID Is Gangnam Beauty both had their female leads bullied for their looks. More recently, gritty K-Dramas like Extracurricular, Revenge of the Others, Weak Hero Class 1, and even the zombie apocalypse thriller All of Us Are Dead, either centred around bullying or prominently featured it.
After being pushed to the edge, our protagonist in The Glory vows revenge. There’s no question of redemption here and through some extremely graphic scenes of violence and bullying, the show makes sure that the viewers are left rooting for and invested in every step of Dong-Eun’s carefully planned quest for revenge, one that has no boundaries.
The violence is not for the faint-hearted (viewer discretion is recommended), and there are potential triggers regarding suicide ideation, violence, and sexual assault.
Dong-Eun (Song Hye-Kyo) grows up clawing her way through physical, social, and economic hardships and positions herself at a place that she is most sure will strike fear in the heart of her chief tormentor from high school. She takes over as the homeroom teacher at Semyeng Elementary where Yeon Jin’s (Lim Ji-Yeong) young daughter is enrolled.
There’s little that has changed for the gang of bullies. If they were despicable and depraved as high schoolers, they are remorseless and unrepentant as adults. The hierarchy established within the clique owing to their social backgrounds, the ensuing jealousy, and distrust, is one of the major aspects that Dong-Eun mines while unravelling her elaborate scheme.
Revenge dramas, like 2021’s My Name, that have a strong protagonist and engaging writing, often end up taking the predictable route. In The Glory, however, writer Kim Eun-Sook and director Ahn Gil-Ho take a disturbing, gory premise, powered by intriguing characters, all while ensuring there’s a constant sense of unease and dread that looms large. The writing dwells on the trauma that Dong-Eun is left with and how it manifests itself in her, mentally and physically. If her itchy burn scars are a reminder of the physical violence, she’s shown to have a breakdown when she hears meat sizzling and is left repulsed and shaken when she faces off with one of her bullies who sexually objectified her.
At the helm of things is Song Hye-Kyo, delivering a career-best performance as Dong-Eun. Hardened by the violence and abuse she’s faced, Dong-Eun is seemingly dead on the inside and maintains a passive, haunted exterior for the most part. There’s also the subtle manic glint in her eyes when she knows her presence is making her adversaries squirm, and the rare smiles are reserved for the seemingly endearing Jo Yeo-Jeong (Lee Do-Hyun) who is smitten by her. It is a challenging, nuanced character and one that Hye-Kyo brings alive to perfection on screen. It helps and is much more impactful that the theatrics, like when she meets her former bullies after decades, are kept to a minimum.
Largely one-note and reprehensible, the supporting cast who play the roles of the bullies have less of a challenge at hand and yet manage to give it their loathsome best. Shin Ye-Eun, who plays the high school version of Yeon-Jin, is especially terrifying. While the affable and warm Yeo-Jeong might seem like a role straight up Lee Do-Hyun’s alley, the writing throws a surprise. There’s a lot of nuance and intrigue there, and we’ve barely scratched the surface in the first eight episodes of the show.
In this first of the two parts, The Glory effectively sets up the stakes for an intriguing, tangled tale of revenge. The eight-episode format and the length of the episodes greatly benefit the show and it is hard to miss director Ahn Gil-Ho’s expertise in keeping the viewers hooked. This is very reminiscent of his previous outing, the superbly engaging Happiness.
While the graphic violence in its initial portions is hard to watch, The Glory leaves you angry at the injustice and subsequently gratified once the retribution begins. It is going to be a long wait for the second part of the K-Drama, which is scheduled to drop in March.
The first part of The Glory is streaming on Netflix