Geek Review: The Glory (Netflix)

Getting their just deserts. The concept of comeuppance is a popular notion, as many understand the execution of punishment that is rightfully deserved, especially when meting out justice, but what happens when the victim crosses that line in the delivery as well?

The Glory is the latest Korean drama that makes audiences feel for the protagonist, telling a story about seeking glory through an elaborate revenge scheme, but the 16-episode series is also so much more. Scratching beneath the well-manufactured surface of South Korean society, the show is the latest revenge flick that reveals the more sinister cracks in society, unveiling the dark realities of school violence stemming from class inequalities and the lack of social justice in South Korea. Unfortunately these issues don’t usually stop after high school graduation and this over-dramatized series adds in other complexities, from extramarital affairs, deception, drug abuse, to murders.

The series starts off with main character Dong-eun who was brutally bullied in high school because she was born poor. She then spends the next 18 years carefully plotting her revenge by building herself, her network and resources up. 

Played to sweet sinister perfection by Song Hye-kyo, who effectively carries the show, the 41-year-old actress is both victim and victimiser and if you’ve seen her in previous outings, both perfect and surprising in the role. Well-known for many romantic K-dramas including Descendents of the Sun and Autumn in my Heart, she is also an ambassador for many beauty and luxury brands, and The Glory displays a very different side of the typically sweet-natured and gentle actress, and it is a refreshing change. 

Dong-eun’s capability in exacting comeuppance is clearly demonstrated in her first revenge against the high school homeroom teacher who allowed the school bullies to get away, and even slapped her for reporting the bullies. While Dong-eun was pursuing her teaching certification, she befriends her teacher’s son and earns his trust. At the opportune moment, Dong-eun tells the teacher’s son about how his father mistreated her when she was a student, and he takes it upon himself to kill his own father, making it look like an accident. Dong-eun may not necessarily have wanted her old, abusive teacher to die but she knew that turning the teacher’s son against him is the ultimate punishment.

As the show unfolds, we start to see the extent of Dong-eun‘s brilliance and complexity as a character based on the finer details, as her every move has a purpose. Her resulting encounters are hardly by chance, and her smile always carries unbridled pain that is slowly surfacing. The more amazing thing is that she doesn’t do things in secret, by taking pot shots and leaving in secrecy. She wants her tormentors to know that justice is being served and wants them to see it coming, by giving her bullies advance warning. You would think this takes away the element of surprise, but this ends up setting many of her plans in motion and makes her revenge much more satisfying to watch.  

It’s not surprising that her main antagonist is also female. Park Yeon-jin (Lim Ji-yeon, Obsessed and Blow Breeze) comes from a wealthy family, tortures the poor and believes that she can get away with anything but more than just a villain, she is written to be a great foil, who not only dresses well, but gets to deliver some really great lines that can make viewer’s blood boil. 

But what makes Yeon-jin a villain we love to hate is how far she is willing to push people (literally) and the lengths she’ll go to get back at others and cover her tracks. Some of her retaliation tactics are quite commendable because it actually leaves viewers wondering what would happen next though ultimately Yeon-jin is no match for Dong-eun, who is far more composed and measured in her approach. 

Much of the series revolves around the abstract and ancient strategy board game, Go, which is how Dong-eun gets herself a prince/headsman (more on that later!) and mostly how she piqued the interest of Yeon-jin’s husband, Ha Do-yeong (Jung Sung Il, Our Blues and Bad and Crazy). 

Do-yeong is also a complex character, and it will take audiences a little longer to figure out his true nature and intentions. His initial curiosity in Dong-eun suggests that there could be romantic sparks pending, but that would be too predictable because this is not that type of show, though it would have made for an interesting pairing to watch. Still, Do-yeong is inherently good as he only wants to know the truth and does not take sides when Dong-eun asks him to leave Yeon-jin. He is a good father and is committed to care for his daughter, even after finding out that they are not biologically related.

Another complicated character with good intentions (for the most part) is the aforementioned prince/headsman, Joo Yoo-jeong (Lee Do-hyun, Youth of May and Melancholia). Haunted by the painful memory of his father’s death, he finds solace and salvation in Dong-eun. Yoo-jeong meets Dong-eun sporadically every few years and teaches her how to play Go, though they finally get together when she tells him, “What I need is not a prince, but a headsman who will join me in the sword dance.”

Sadly, this vengeance seeking vamp is not looking for a happily ever after for herself, so don’t expect the typical, lovey-dovey relationship here. Things start off slowly and awkwardly for Dong-eun and Yoo-jeong as it makes sense given their histories. Being in a relationship is last on their to-do list, and it is the weight of the anger and pain each of them carries that leads them to support each other in carrying out their revenge.

Don’t be deceived by his boyish good looks either because Yoo-jeong is very sharp and has his own tricks up his sleeves. Long before he agrees to be her executioner, he knew of Dong-eun’s intention to use him and his connections for her revenge. Still, he remains drawn to her and looks for ways to stay in touch while dropping hints that he is willing to play a pivotal role in her plans – which is thoughtful because he was subtly there for her without coming off as an overbearing crush. And if you pay close attention enough, you’ll be able to catch Yoo-jeong making mischievous and sly remarks that causes other characters to take a second look and think, “What did you say?”

All in all, the devil is truly in the details and all of the different elements really matter. Major kudos to the show writers for thinking through them as each storyline connects to each other in an impressive tapestry that keeps you glued to the screen. Ultimately, these details help create a powerful domino effect that causes the perpetrators to fall from glory, one by one. 

The cinematography and production were excellent at bringing the entire story to life. In the first half of the series, the school gym was a powerful setting because that’s where most of the bullying happened and where Dong-eun made her first (and second) comeback to warn her perpetrators of her vengeance. Meanwhile, the changes in the season at the park, where Dong-eun and Yoo-jeong played Go, beautifully captures the time they spent together.

The only thing that falls short is the pacing towards the end, where all the concluding storylines are stuffed into one episode. Imagine nearly all of the retributions taking place within one hour, with a long list of folks waiting to get their just deserts! The moments leading up to their final punishments were unsatisfyingly short, which could also be intentional because life isn’t always about beating the bad guys. But perhaps spreading out the punishments over the last few episodes would have given the viewers a bit more time to build up the anticipation, to rejoice in the justice served and to properly bid the other characters off to start anew.

Fortunately, the first 15 episodes of the 16-episode series still made up for the shortcomings and the overall series is absolutely worth watching. The Glory will make you think about societal inequalities and its impact on how people present themselves and treat others. And hopefully, the lack of justice among those who should have enforced it and the fight for glory will inspire you to always do the right thing.



The Glory is a nearly perfect K-drama for anyone who is looking for a good revenge and thriller genre. Even if you don’t consume K-drama regularly, you’ll find yourself enjoying this series.

  • Story - 9/10
  • Direction - 8/10
  • Characterisation - 10/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 8/10