K-Drama Review: The Penthouse (season 1)

The Penthouse: War in Life might just be the craziest Korean drama I’ve ever watched. I can’t recall a K-drama ever inducing this much stress and frustration—and I’m no stranger to makjang (highly exaggerated) dramas. It’s the ultimate revenge thriller with elements of suspense, crime, and mystery. The staggering plot twists and shocking revelations will leave you blindsided, continually second guessing what you think you know. While there are some logical pitfalls and questionable sub-conflicts, Penthouse is certainly a K-drama to remember.

Penthouse takes place in Hera Palace, a 100-story luxury apartment where South Korea’s elites reside. The drama opens with a bang when a student falls to her death, landing on the statue of the Greek goddess Hera; cradled in those cold marble arms, crimson splattered on pale open wings. It’s a symbolic scene that set the tone for the rest of the show. Hera is known as the goddess of women, marriage, and family in Greek religion and mythology. It represents the three women that the plot revolves around; three women with different backgrounds who all seek power and revenge in some way.

No one is completely innocent, except, maybe the poor girl who was murdered, but this drama is full of despicable characters you’ll love to hate (emphasis on the hate). The lies, deceit, betrayal, and corruption—there were times when I felt so upset that I had to take a break. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did, and boy did my blood boil. Aside from the highly dramatized plot twists, Penthouse also meaningfully explores themes of education, class privilege, and female rage. How far is a mother is willing to go to exact revenge when she has nothing left to lose? How dirty is she willing to play? The power of female rage is a glorious thing. Never underestimate a mother’s wrath!  

Character tier list.

My friend and I made several tier lists while watching. This one was from quite early on, when we were only three or four episodes in. As you can see, there weren’t very many characters we loved but quite a few that we despised. As more information and history were revealed, some characters moved up the list and some moved down, and I couldn’t help but pity them because at the end of the day, (almost) everyone was a victim of circumstance, whether it was how they were raised or the mental/physical abuse they faced. Except for the chairman. No pity for him here. He can rot in the depths of hell.

Check out Penthouse if you like murder mysteries, over-the-top drama, revenge stories, crazy plot twists, and the rags-to-riches trope. Keep in mind that nearly all the characters are terrible, and it’s quite stress-inducing! I’m taking a breather before I dive into season 2 because I’m not sure how much more my heart can take, but there’s something undeniably compelling about this series so I’m definitely going to see how things unfold.

The residents of Hera Palace, a luxury penthouse apartment with 100 floors, have many secrets and hidden ambitions. Sim Su Ryeon, who was born into wealth, is the queen of the penthouse apartment. Cheon Seo Jin, the prima donna of the residence, does all she can to give everything to her daughter. Oh Yoon Hee comes from a poor family background, but she strives to enter high society by becoming the queen of the penthouse, the pinnacle of success in her eyes. A battle for wealth, power, and prestige at Seoul’s most coveted penthouse begins.

(From KOCOWA)

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