Why ‘The Penthouse: War in Life’ Remains Popular Even While Being Criticized

There are no ‘why’s, but only ‘wow’s. Such is the viewers’ response to SBS’s The Penthouse: War in Life. While the plot is in no way realistic, the show’s thrilling speed is what gets them. The unraveling of complicated and toxic relationships between psychotic high-class protagonists is electrifying. Let’s take a look at the secret behind the success of The Penthouse, a show which people claim to ‘hate to, but watch anyway.’


1. ‘Kim Soon Ok’s World of Makjang’, Now as its Own Genre

(Translator’s Note: ‘Makjang’ refers to stories or plotlines which are extreme, unrealistic, ridiculous, or aloof. This usually includes plot twists such as birth/family secrets, acts of revenge, terminal illnesses, or deaths.)

In the center of the series’ popularity is writer Kim Soon Ok, who wrote the script. While she gained the title as the ‘Godmother of Makjang’ through her previous works such as Jang Bori Is Here!, My Daughter, Geum Sa-Wol and The Last Empress, she remains unfazed. Some even say that the bloody revenge played by Lee Ji Ah, Kim So Yeon, and Eugene is the ‘ultimate Kim Soon Ok World.’ The world of Kim’s works has recently been the subject of online memes. Posts showing compilations of absurd scenes in her previous works, such as those who come back from death, are constantly being shared online. Voices mocking her works, questioning whether it can be qualified as a drama, have transformed into a certain source of humor. This in itself became effective in attracting attention as the viewers of The Penthouse say that “those who doubt the plot are not ready to watch the show.”


2. Small details that become enjoyable

The plot twists which even Lee Ji Ah and Kim So Yeon themselves have said that “all predictions are thrown aside in each episode’s script,” are what bestirs the viewers. Because of the unpredictable plot development, viewers came forward each with their theories and pieces of evidence. They do not miss even the slightest clue, such as the characters’ names or the titles of the songs they sing. The viewers’ enthusiasm for the show is what makes it powerful. Recently, a theory suggesting Eugene as a transgender drew attention. This is because the chromosome on Eugene’s DNA test result was marked as an “XY.” While this was revealed to be a mistake of the production team, keywords related to The Penthouse topped real-time searches on portal sites.


3. Actors Who Compensate Make Up For the Realism with Their Acting Skills

The lack of authenticity is compensated by the actors’ highly captivating performances. Apart from the three main characters, their husbands, Yoon Jong Hoon, Park Eun Seok, and their children such as Kim Soo Hyun and Kim Young Dae, also show off their unique acting. Thanks to its popularity and positive reviews, The Penthouse won eight awards including Excellence awards in last year’s Drama Awards Ceremony. Among them, Lee Ji Ah who depicted desperate motherhood, and Um Ki Jun who constantly is in an affair, are told to have met their “life-time work” by the viewers. Um Ki Jun said he is determined to become the “national bast*rd” through this drama, and Lee Ji Ah confessed, “all is thanks to the synergy created with the villain actors such as Kim So Yeon.”

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