Battle of the Songs: Revenge K-dramas Reborn Rich v The Glory
It is rare when two buzzy K-dramas, both with A-listers attached and centred on an underdog exacting his or her revenge on the powerful, air back to back. It is even rarer still when those A-listers were formerly husband and wife.
Song Joong-ki’s Reborn Rich, which ended its run on Dec 25, is a bona fide smash hit, with ratings that made it the second most-watched series in South Korea’s cable television history. In it, the 37-year-old leading man plays Yoon Hyun-woo, a loyal employee working in the present day for Soonyang Group, run by the ultra-rich Jin family.
He is murdered, but instead of dying, he wakes up in 1987 in the body of Jin Do-jun, the youngest grandson of the Jin patriarch. He plots to wrestle control of the company and seek answers to his death.
Meanwhile, Song Hye-kyo’s The Glory, which dropped on Netflix on Dec 30 and is currently the most-watched non-English language series globally, sees the 41-year-old actress break away from her usual romance genre.
She stars as Moon Dong-eun, a woman once violently bullied by her wealthy, cruel classmates in school. As an adult, she hatches an elaborate plan to torture her tormentors.
The Songs, who fell in love on the set of the hit romance drama Descendants Of The Sun (2016), divorced in 2019.
So whose show is better? Here is how their on-screen vengeance stacks up.
Due to a fantastical “reborn” set-up, Reborn Rich is a buoyant take on revenge. Retaining all his memories of his life as Hyun-woo after his rebirth, Do-jun is prescient.
Watching him use his knowledge of the future, be it the results of presidential elections or the World Cup, to thwart his condescending extended family and win the favour of his grandfather – the fearsome leader of Soonyang, Jin Yang-cheol (Lee Sung-min) – is a fun and exciting ride. But it is one with diminishing returns, used too many times in the plot.
The drama’s finale was also heavily criticised by some (and even voted by viewers as the show with the worst ending in a survey conducted by community portal site DC Inside), as it veers from the conclusion of the original webtoon it was based on. Instead of a straightforward revenge, Reborn Rich became more of a redemption tale.
The Glory, on the other hand, has no moments of levity. This is a dark series that opens with scenes of school bullying so brutal they are difficult to watch.
Unlike Do-jun, Dong-eun has no magical ability that gives her smug “gotcha” moments. After suffering unthinkable abuse, what powers her is a burning hatred that has wholly consumed her.
There is no healing or moving on for Dong-eun. She has no hobbies, aspirations or relationships, and is set on one thing alone – to make the lives of those who tortured her hell.
Verdict: The Glory. While its ending remains to be seen as part two is released only in March, for those looking for revenge stories, this is the far more wrathful tale.
It can be argued that a revenge tale lives and dies on its antagonists. How can audiences enjoy sweet catharsis if there is not enough unalloyed hatred for those getting their just deserts?
In Reborn Rich, the extended Jin family members are rich and entitled, treat those who work for them like slaves, and have no hesitation in destroying the lives of ordinary people to line their wallets. Audiences will despise them, for sure.
But the villains in The Glory? They will make your skin crawl. Sure, the ringleader of Dong-eun’s bullies, Park Yeon-jin (Im Ji-yeon), has typical baddie traits – bratty, wealthy and awful to the people she sees as beneath her. But she also delights in hurting people and seeing them utterly humiliated.
When Dong-eun asks why Yeon-jin picks on her, the latter’s unfazed reply is simple yet chilling – because she can, and without consequences.
Verdict: The Glory, hands down. Don’t mess with the mean girl.
In another coincidence, the stars of both series are not the acting highlights. In fact, it is often the antagonists or supporting characters who steal the show.
In Reborn Rich, the man to watch is Lee’s Yang-cheol, a tough, ruthless self-made tycoon ruling over a dysfunctional family with an iron fist.
While his character is objectively unscrupulous, Lee makes him hard to hate. His performance contains multitudes – the ego and greed of a man who clawed his way to the top, the pain of a father who has failed to parent children he respects, the fear of ageing and death.
Meanwhile, The Glory is a fresh challenge for Song Hye-kyo, who is best known for her work in romantic comedies. She does a serviceable job here, but the nature of the character calls for her to just appear cold and detached.
Of particular note instead are the teenage (Shin Ye-eun) and adult versions of Yeon-jin. Their crooked smiles and condescending glints put together a cohesive and convincing performance as the same character at different stages of life.
Verdict: Reborn Rich. Lee is hard to beat.