K-Drama Review: ‘The Penthouse: War in Life’: A Makjang Drama Full of Kim Soon Ok’s Clichés

Edited by Yang Young Jun
Translated by Kim Hoyeun

Credit: SBS

The Penthouse: War in Life is heating up the small screen day after day. Like all the works of writer Kim Soon Ok from Temptation of Wife to The Last Empress that “you curse as you watch,” The Penthouse: War in Life makes viewers’ hair tingle with its provocative topics and developments.

Then why on earth do we still watch Kim Soo OK’s works? Let’s take a look at the key features that often appear in “Soonok Kim’s Universe.”

#One Hell of a Makjang Development

Along with Im Sung Han, Kim Soon Ok is the first writer that comes to mind when it comes to “makjang dramas.” And The Penthouse: War in Life also boasts its “spicy” plot. These are the topics that appeared in just 4 episodes: affair, kidnapping, murder, disposing of the body, secrets behind birth, admission corruption, school violence, and domestic violence.

#Mad Presence of Villains

Shin Ae Ri from Temptation of Wife and Yeon Min Jung from Jang Bo-Ri Is Here! Writer Kim is the one who gave birth to these “all-time” villains. Her outstanding portrayal of villains is still quite impressive. Villains from The Penthouse: War in Life, let it be adults or kids, radiate such “evilness” to the point where we think “there is not a single person in her right mind.” And among them all, Cheon Seo Jin and Joo Dan Tae are the “main villains.” However, compared to the female villains who have shown jaw-dropping presence in Kim Soon OK’s previous works, the impact left by Cheon Seo Jin is relatively weak. But this is mostly because Joo Dan Tae’s psychopathic aspects are too magnified.


#Parents Separated from Their Child

One of Kim’s favorite subjects is the storytelling of biological parents and their children being separated and failing to recognize each other. In The Penthouse: War in Life, there is a tragic secret of birth between Shim Soo Ryeon and Min Seol Ah. Min Seol Ah is a child born between Shim Soo Ryeon and her ex-husband, but she was adopted to the U.S. by Joo Dan Tae’s scheme. Somehow, Shin finds out that Min is her own daughter, but she has already passed away by then.

#Hardships that Every Character (from Main, Supporting to Child Roles) Go Through �

Most characters in “Soonok Kim’s universe” go through various challenges and hardships. And this fate doesn’t avoid main, supporting, or child roles. And this “tradition” remains the same in The Penthouse: War in Life. Not to mention the two main characters Shim Soo Ryeon and Oh Yoon Hee, but families living in the penthouse and Min Seol Ah, who died in the first episode, already had or will have to endure the coming hardships.


#Tragedy Caused by Fire or Car Accidents

“Fire” and “car accidents” are another favorite topics used by writer Kim. These incidents are used as sources for the main characters to pledge revenge while also being used as the “weakness” for the villains.

In The Penthouse: War in Life, all parents from the penthouse except Shim Soo Ryeon dumped Min Seol Ah’s body in an apartment and set it on fire to disguise her death as a suicide. This incident, which seemed to have concluded as a perfect crime, starts a new problem when a watch left by Lee Kyu Jin comes into the hands of Shim. Their effort to “cover-up” the incident became the villains’ weakness.

#Kind Protagonists Become Revenger

Of all the characters in the drama, Shim is the only “good” person. And there is a good reason why such a kind-hearted person turns into a vengeful person. It will be strange to see her continue to be an “angel” even after going through such horrible things in her life, such as learning the truth behind her ex-husband and her daughter’s death and figuring out the affair between Joo Dan Tae and Cheon Seo Jin. Her moves so far are reminding viewers of Shin Deuk Ye from My Daughter, Geum Sa-wol.


#A Fresh Start of Villains

Most of the villains in Kim’s works saw a miserable end, but nevertheless, some showed remorse for their past sins. Kim In Hwa from Jang Bo-ri Is Here! and Goo Sae Kyung from Band of Sisters are the best examples. And there are two characters in The Penthouse: War in Life that are showing similar paths: Joo Dan Tae’s son Joo Seok Hoon and Cheon Seo Jin’s husband Ha Yoon Chul. However, with the characters’ intertwined relationships, it’s still uncertain if these two characters will show “complete rehabilitation.”


#Resurrection of Those Who Were Believed to Be Dead

Starting with Goo Eun Jae from Temptation of Wife, there were people who “resurrected” from their death to either personally solve or act as the key figure in putting an end to the case. As of the 7th episode, three people are dead: Min Seol Ah, Shim Soo Ryeon’s ex-husband and Joo Dan Tae’s secretary Yoon Tae Joo. And since only Yoon Tae Joo’s death wasn’t confirmed, viewers are expecting him to show up again and give hands to Shim in her revenge.


Editor Yang Young Jun: There is at least one good part in every movie or TV series. A media geek who isn’t picky with genres.

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