Revenge has always been good fodder for TV and film plots because of the whole “best served cold” axiom; the story can span decades, and the person getting revenge can spring their plan when and where the targets least expect it. In a new Korean drama, a woman executes her complicated plan to get back at her high school tormentors, eighteen years after the fact.

THE GLORY: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

Opening Shot: We see a woman driving a car from the back seat, where it looks like there are boxes and crates.

The Gist: The woman, Moon Dong-eun (Song Hye-kyo), is moving into a new apartment in Seoul, having been away for a number of years. We see her stapling pictures of Park Yeon-jin (Lim Ji-yeon), a well-known weather forecaster, to her wall. There are multiple, large burn scars on her arms and shoulders. She imagines Yeom-jin walking in and criticizing her collage, and Dong-eun bashing her in the face with the stapler.

We flash back 18 years, to the summer of 2004. Dong-eun (Jung Ji-so) and Yeon-jin (Shin Ye-eun) are seniors in high school, and Yeon-jin is the ringleader of a group of popular students who have been bullying Dong-eun. The other members of the group are Jeon Jae-joon (Song Byeong-geun), Choi Hye-jeong (Song Ji-woo), Lee Sa-ra (Bae Kang-hee) and Son Myeong-o (Seo Woo-hyuk).

The group doesn’t just make fun of Dong-eun, they’re cruel and violent. After an incident where Dong-eun got the police involved, she’s forced into the gym and Yeon-jin has her “test” her curling iron. What that means is that she presses the iron on Dong-eun’s arms, causing scarring, bleeding burns, while the rest of the group laughs. At this point, Dong-eun feels that she can’t rely on anyone to help, given the influence Yeon-jin’s mother has on the school and community. So when the nurse asks Dong-eun who hurt her, Yeon-jin, hiding from class in the nurse’s office, gladly says it’s her.

Back in 2022, Dong-eun encounters Yeon-jin’s daughter in the school yard, and talks to her a little bit about how she thinks about the kid’s mom every day. “Some hatred looks like longing,” she tells the kid. Why is Dong-eun there? That’s part of her elaborate plan to get revenge on each and every one of her tormentors.

In 2004, after the group comes to her flat in a dilapidated building and tortures her all over again, Dong-eun decides to drop out of school, citing the entire group’s violence as the reason. That leads to her chagrined homeroom teacher beating on her in the school office, which leads Yeon-jin’s mother to offer Dong-eun’s mom a monetary settlement if she signs off on a form saying her daughter was “maladjusted.” Soon after getting the money, her mom moves and leaves Dong-eun on her own.

Dong-eun then heads back to the gym to tell Yeon-jin that “my dream is you,” meaning revenge will be on her mind at all times. Years go by, and Dong-eun gets her GED and goes to college. But her scars won’t let her forget what Yeon-jin and company did to her.

The Glory
Photo: Graphyoda/Netflix

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The Glory feels like a darker, more brooding take on Kill Bill.

Our Take: One of the things that struck us when we watched the first episode of The Glory is that what happened to Moon Dong-eun was more than just bullying, it was out-and-out assault. It’s pretty extreme to see that, eighteen years after the fact, the scars inflicted by Yeon-jin and company — mental and physical — were deep and permanent, and that they completely got away with it.

Writer Kim Eun-sook wants viewers to be shocked by just what Moon Dong-eun went through in order to buy into her complex revenge plan. We need to buy into the fact that Dong-eun has made it her life’s purpose to get this revenge, even if it seems unrealistic that her tormentors would be able to get away with literally disfiguring someone right under the school administration’s eyes.

There are class issues at play here; Yeon-jin’s mother is pretty cruel to her while being able to buy or otherwise influence away all of her daughter’s bad deeds, while Dong-eun lives in a slum with parents who find her to be more of a problem than anything else. That’s really the only background we get about the rivals, at least in the first episode, but that’s enough. Dong-eun pulled herself up from pretty desperate circumstances, fueled by the thought of revenge, but that grim upbringing is part of what drives her, too.

Despite the lack of details, The Glory works as a revenge story because you’re immediately drawn to Dong-eun and want to see her get back at those that scarred her for life. But we hope that there will also be more nuance to Yeon-jin and some of the other tormentors, as well. Will they have changed enough for Dong-eun to have second thoughts? Or will they just be adult versions of the bullies they were in high school? Should be interesting to see that play out.

Sex and Skin: None in the first episode.

Parting Shot: Dong-eun stares at the photos she stapled on the wall of her new flat, and we hear her in voice over say that “an eye for an eye” sounds “too fair to me.”

Sleeper Star: Shin Ye-eun as young Yeon-jin does a good job of showing how the bully is someone who tends to get bullied in their own lives.

Most Pilot-y Line: Dong-eun’s homeroom teacher, who is her guardian, gets her from the police station and says, “You came here with your fucking uniform on? And you called the police over a little prank between friends?” Way to be understanding, dude.

Our Call: STREAM IT. The Glory is dark as hell, but it sets up the situation well in the first episode, giving viewers a view of just why Dong-eun has had revenge on her mind for so many years.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.