Gloria Review (Spoilers)

Posted by Stephanie on April 10, 2013


gloriaWow. This rewatch of Gloria has confirmed my original thought that Gloria is one of the little known Kdrama gems out there. It deserves to get more recognition than it gets. “Gloria?” you say, “never heard of it.” Exactly. The first time I ever started watching this drama, it was right after the epic Smile Dong Hae and I certainly wasn’t looking to get into another long commitment. I started the first episode of Gloria because I was busy and didn’t want a show I’d be super hooked on. From the description, I figured Gloria was just what I needed .

From DramaFever:

Na Jin Jin and Ha Dong Ah grow up together. Jin Jin dreams of becoming a singer, while Dong Ah, a gifted fighter, turns to a life of working for the mob. Jin Jin gets a job as an underling at a local nightclub and Dong Ah remains her loyal friend supporting her as she struggles to look after her mentally handicapped sister. One day, Jin Jin gets her big break when the nightclub’s singer doesn’t show up, and Jin Jin gets the chance to perform. After seeing her sing, Lee Kang Suk, the illegitimate son of a wealthy family, begins pursuing her—but many obstacles stand in the way of their budding romance.

See? That didn’t seem thrilling at all. Boy, was I wrong. I literally couldn’t stop watching. How much did I enjoy Gloria? Well, usually I drag my feet on writing these reviews. (SURPRISE, right?) They just take me so long and I always feel like I’m not doing it properly. But Gloria? Gloria is one of those few shows where I have to talk about everything I’m thinking and while I’m afraid at how especially long this will be (thereby increasing the chances of you losing your interest) I’m also afraid I’ll forget to mention something.

Gloria also reaffirmed my belief that I truly need to rewatch these kdramas before reviewing them. The first time around, as I said, I loved this show, however, the last few episodes drove me crazy. Seriously bonkers. And then I really felt that the last episode turned this from an excellent show into a ‘meh’ show. I had a post all ready to correspond with this review. “You had me until the end, Top 5 shows that blew the landing” After rewatching Gloria, while I still have a few lingering issues, it no longer belongs on that list.

Okay, so enough blathering. Let’s get this started. In an effort to not forget anything, I’ve decided to break this up into talking points and will meander through there. (First Rule of Stephanie’s reviews, it’s going to be long. Second rule of Stephanie’s reviews? It’s going to be long. Gloria is no exception)

Team Poor/ Team Rich
Within this drama the story is told to us from two very different vantage points. We have Team Poor, which includes JinJin, her sister JinJu, her best friend Dong Ah, and the various people who inhabit their world at the house and nightclub.

Our opposing team, Team Rich, has our hero, Kang Suk, his family which includes his father, his brother Lee Ji Suk (the villain of the piece), and his ‘official’ mother. Team Rich also stars Jung Yoon-seo, the suicidal ballerina and future bride of Dong Ah and her messed up family.

The one person who sits in the middle of this is Kang Suk’s biological mother Yeo Jung-nan, she belongs to neither side, but like most of Team Rich, feels more comfortable with Team Poor.

As in most Kdramas Team Rich believes that Team Poor are just bugs that they can stomp on. That whatever they do to them, it doesn’t matter because they have no power. Team Rich can hire/fire, beat up, force them to be mistresses, kidnap, ruin careers, and even murder any member of Team Poor without any repercussion at all.

Unfortunately, even as the climax of the drama happens, the writers do nothing to disprove this. Yes, Team Poor wins out in the end, but their fortunes do not turn around until the late appearance of a pretty awesome character, the very rich grandmother. In order to get revenge on her murdered granddaughter, she bolsters Team Poor, giving them the leverage they need to win out in the end. Even Kang Suk and Yoon-seo who come from Team Rich don’t have enough power to be effective.

So the moral of the story is that the rich will always win, unless one of their members murder an even wealthier heiress? Not a great life lesson.

This doesn’t make me dislike rich grandmother any less. Before she arrived on the scene it was very dark for our two couples with no help on the horizon. However, it was really cheating, story wise, having this close connection between the landlady and rich grandmother suddenly, conveniently, appear at basically the end of the drama. I just don’t care. From that point, we know that Team Poor is about to get some of theirs back and the story got a little more fun. I loved seeing Evil Brother slowly, carefully, get twisted and backed into a trap.

The absolute power of the rich was kind of scary.

Are dreams just a luxury of the rich? That’s what the Team Poor believes at the start of this drama. We see the abject poverty of these people. In order to provide for her and her mentally challenged sister, JinJin works any job she can. She moves from papers in the morning, to selling kimbap in the street, to the carwash, and from there ends the day working the coat check room at the nightclub. She and everyone around her have no time for dreams. They are all uneducated, having to give up school to earn money for necessities or to pay off family debts. There is no looking to the future here. Or there is. JinJin’s goal in life? To simply earn enough money to live in a retirement home with her sister.

Despite this, they are mostly content with their life, understanding their place in society and enjoying their relationships with each other.

What they don’t realize is that their counterparts over on Team Rich aren’t quite as happy as one would expect having every advantage out before them. Unless the brothers fighting for control of the company counts as a dream. Yoon-seo feels that her life is such without hope her first attempt at death was when she was just a child and during our storyline tries twice more.

The lives of the children on Team Rich are not their own. They are basically ruled over by their family. The children are mere possessions for the parents to barter with. Marry your daughter to someone you know is a murderer? Well, that’s okay, he’ll be more manageable. Pit your son’s against each other in a fight to the death? Well, okay, so long as there’s one of them is left to run the company. And marry the suicidal ballerina.

It’s interesting that it’s only Team Poor who speaks of dreams. You cheer for them when they decide, for the first time, to go out, take a chance try for a dream. And it can’t help but break your heart when partway through the battle, shoved down by life, they wonder if they were stupid for dreaming. Wondering if they had, by wishing for something more, destroyed the one thing that they did have. It’s not like they can go back to where they first came from. That tempest is out of the bottle.

Unlike the first lesson of rich winning out over poor, here is where Team Poor get a solid win. By trying for, and sticking with their dreams even in the bad times, they get everything the wanted and then some. I love the bit at the end where Gloria is talking about she and Kang-suk looking towards the future with nothing but a similar dream.

I also loved the theme of family being what you create. Team Poor with its rag tag members were completely and blindly supportive of one another. From the very beginning one of my favorite relationships was JinJin and Dong-ah. Friends since they were babies, they are now inseparable. We don’t get friendships very much in Kdrama and almost never with a guy and a girl. The way they bicker and fight with each other is so much fun.

They know everything about each other and literally do anything to protect each other. Take the scene in the beginning where JinJin is jailed for beating up the guy who harassed her sister. Dong-ha didn’t rest until he came up with the money for the settlement. Eventually even threatening to burn down where JinJin lived in order to get her pin money back.

Seeing their really brother/sister relationship throughout the show makes it even harder when JinJin finds out it’s Dong-ah’s father who caused the wreck which killed her parents and broke her sister. With that incredibly awful act, he ruined JinJin’s life in the past, she could no longer be a child because she had to be the sole support of her and her sister.

The fact that this move also destroys the relationship between JinJin and Dong-ha just breaks my heart. Their friendship was the one solid thing throughout her life, he was the only one she could depend on for years–and vice versa. And to see how much pain the two of them are in because of outside forces? The fact that Dong-ah totally understands why and she can’t be friends with him or be with Kang-Suk because he knows her so much, just adds another layer of sad.

As Cherry Cordial would say, “This show gives me so many feels!”

As crappy as their lives are, I would totally prefer to be part of Team Poor than Team Rich.

There be a lot of forgiveness in this show, Arrr… Some I agree with, some which makes me want to tear my hair out. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: Kdrama cares way too much for redeeming everyone by the end. In Gloria they attempt to do this to the most despicable characters, it’s what originally made me really hate the last episode and cast a veil over the rest of the drama for me.

People I’m really glad are forgiven? I’m glad JinJin forgave Dong-ha and Kang-suk. I loved her relationships with both characters and it hurt my heart when she felt she had to hate them in order to get her revenge.

Now on to the bad side of forgiveness.
The parents. Which ones? Take your pick and I’ll agree with you. Dong-ha’s father? He murdered JinJin’s parents in an attempt to murder her sister (for money). He blackmailed the bad guy, putting JinJu at risk, time and again. He abandoned Dong-ha and his grandson after stealing the money from his other dead son’s insurance.

Oh right, and then he tried to kill JinJu for a second time. Actually his whole character and story line irritates me. Yes, he’s instrumental to the plot, but too much so. I think the writers used his character as a crutch and didn’t take time to think about his motivations in the past and present.

Kang-suk’s father and official mother. Actually, I may be okay with them. While they seem sympathetic at the end, it’s because they got their payback. They had their business taken from them, and with the killer for a son, most likely their place in society. Mainly I hate the character of Kang-suk’s father so much, his existence just ticks me off.

And the official mother, she has a sudden case of dementia in the end. This is pretty dumb. I had to say it. The plot point comes out of nowhere, there are no signs leading up to it, it’s justWHAM! her son dies, and she’s taken out.

What irritates me the most is that Kang-suk will now have to go there and pretend to be his dead brother. He’s fought his whole life to be accepted within that family, within society and as much as I disliked the brother, his one fear was being replaced by this second son. One move and you look down on both kids. It just smacks of a writers cop-out and it stinks.

And finally the evil brother Ji-suk. What the fudge? Okay, I get his family forgiving him–that’s the nature of kdrama–but JinJu? Um, seriously, why would you do that? Lets list the myriad of sins he committed against you, your adopted family, and society at large:

He murdered his wife. He murdered your parents. He caused the accident which caused you brain damage forcing you lived as a 6 year old for 20 years, and in turn stripping away your sisters life. Oh right, and you were also pregnant at the time and the baby died in the accident. He attempted to run you down with a car. He hired someone to kidnap you and attempted to lock you up in an insane asylum for the rest of your life. He hired someone to knife you. He blackmailed someone into poisoning you. He hired thugs to beat up your almost brother on a weekly basis. He repeatedly threatens you and your sisters careers, lives, and loves.

Wow. That’s a whole bunch of bad s*#t. AND YOU FORGIVE HIM? Seriously. What the fudge? This makes no sense. You were once in love and that makes everything he did in the next 20 years okay? No. No, that is not okay. Not even in Kdrama laws. She’s now going to live the rest of her life alone in honor of their dead love and will meet him in heaven? This is so wrong it makes me cranky.

What irritated me so much about the ending? Like I said, I had different reactions the first and second time I watched this drama. The first time I absolutely hated how many episodes it took for the Gloria and Kang-suk to get together. When she found out it was his brother who was behind her sisters accident, she could no longer be with Kang-Suk. It no longer mattered that his father disapproved the match, there is no way that she could separate her love for him and the need to get revenge on those who did her wrong. The fact that Kang-suk completely understood and became even more supportive, even though he knew it meant the downfall of his family? So sad. I just wanted to yell at the screen, “Stop being so mean to him! He’s sacrificing everything for you!”

This time around I was able to get past my gut instinct and see (and hear) exactly what was going on the screen. She gave lots of signs to him that she was in as much pain as he was, gave him signals that her love was still inside. And he knew and understood.

This makes me appreciate more the journey that the hero took throughout this drama. Kang-suk starts out as the requisite Kdrama hero ass-hat. He’s completely alone in the word despite his family. His only goal in life is to be the perfect son for his father and to prove himself in the business world that he was more than just the mistresses son. He not only doesn’t have friends, but is unbending and doesn’t know how to relate to people.

Throughout the story and his interactions with Team Poor, Kang-suk becomes a better person, getting a best friend in Dong-ha and a love in JinJin. By the end of the story he understands and supports his mother, he no longer needs or wants the company, and can now see his father for the flawed person he is and no longer allows himself to be manipulated by him.

Side note. I LOVED the fact that he was a member of a fight club. Not only was his fighting was just rawr, sexy, it was pretty telling. He was so emotionally closed off, had no outlet for any of his feelings that the only way he could process them was to fight it out.

My first time watching Gloria I was thinking that he should have gone back to fighting when Gloria was against him at the end. He was no longer bound by his promise to her not to fight anymore, and maybe if she saw him hurt it would have snapped her out of her need for revenge a little sooner. But my second time watching, I understand that he wouldn’t have done that. Even though she had broken up with him, he still considered them a couple (not in a creepy stalker way) and was still held by that promise. He wouldn’t have wanted to to do anything to add onto her the stress she was going through. You know, because he was that sort of awesome guy.

Wow, this show is the poster child for infidelity. Just as it is about getting away with murder–or almost murder. Kang-suk is a product of his married father and long-term mistress. Kang-suk’s grandmother removed him from his mother’s care and placed him with his father and ‘official’ mother. Suicidal ballerina is also a product of a long-term mistress or ‘second wife’. It’s actually an interesting part of the society, that because the father is married to one woman, if he has a child with the mistress, the mistress is his unofficial mother. Even at Kang-suk’s wedding, his real mother can only be there as a guest and not as his mother. I don’t want to talk about others customs, but that’s messed up.

Oh, but the affairs don’t end there. We’ve got the evil son who turned JinJu into a mistress before accidentally murdering his wife and (not so accidentally) attempting to murder JinJu.

Then there’s the whole messed up situation with the two main couples having to pretend to be mixed up and cheating on each other in order to cover their romances.

What I think is interesting is the fact that while Kang-suk’s father keeps a mistress, as a matter of fact, he won’t let her go, he rejects that lifestyle for his sons.
Random thoughts:

I loved the happy times of this show. Every time the two couples met up and had a double date? It was so cute to see them together, teasing, and just having fun with each other.

*Wallpaper. This show is the wallpaperyest show ever. Seriously. Whoever decorated Team Rich’s houses certainly had a hard-on for wall paper. I know this is the weirdest thing to talk about, but as I love wallpaper myself, I couldn’t help but take notice. Again and Again. Some of the patterns were so intricate, I’d hate to be the person hanging it.

*The backstory flashbacks of JinJin’s past don’t fit the storyline. We see pictures of JinJin and JinJu at the funeral and both of them spreading the ashes of their parents. So sad. Except the story says JinJu was in the hospital for months after the accident. She wasn’t conscious while the funeral was going on.

*Something else that doesn’t fit storyline wise? The backstory relationship between Kang-to’s parents. They say they were in love, but were they? She also says he basically bought her from her parents. And she was in love with her musician friend turned club owner. In order to get her, Kang-suk’s father tried to kill the man she actually loved and then strangled her. Um. In my book? Not Love.

*And I don’t know about you, but my boyfriend saying we should probably have sex so his father won’t send men out to rape me? Not the biggest turn on in the world. And just how would that have any effect at all?

*I wish Kang-suk had been played by a different actor. He was serviceable, but I don’t think he had quite the range to be able to pull of this character and his transformation.

*All those people on Team Poor using one bathroom? Well, that’s…awkward.

Okay, guys. I’m sorry this has been so long. There was just so much I wanted to talk about. I’m even now still leaving lots of stuff out. Even for 50 episodes they cramed a lot of plot into this show. Lots of themes that I just like to fiddle and play with.

But I promise I’m done.

Will I watch Gloria again? Oh yeah. I’m totally going to have to make space for it. I may even have to make room for Gloria in my top 5 shows.

Will I recommend this to others? Often and loudly.

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