Edited by Young Jun Yang
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
Even the “Soon Ok world” should have its limits. Previous works by writer Kim Soon Ok have been a spicy blend of sensationalism and excess, but at least they had some form of entertainment value—guilty pleasure included. The Escape of the Seven, however, is a different beast. It goes beyond the spicy and leaves you with an unsettling aftertaste, making you wonder how far it will go.
This drama centers around seven villains involved in the disappearance of a girl struggling to survive in a vengeful storm. Just reading the synopsis, you already get a grip on the tone of the series. And when the mind behind this picaresque story is none other than Kim Soon Ok, you know what you’re in for. The villains’ deeds won’t just end with awful but absolutely grotesque, and the story will be peppered with murder, revenge, drugs, infidelity, and violence. But even by those standards, this drama is just too much.
Take the first episode, for example. It’s a laundry list of appalling elements: assault with weapons, teen pregnancy (later revealed to be an adult), sugar daddies, school violence, teacher bribery, and even child abuse. Specifically, the scene where Geum Ra Hee (Hwang Jung Eum) brutally punches her daughter Bang Da Mi (Jung Lael) in the face is nothing short of shocking. What’s more surprising is that the episode only carries a PG-15 (in Korea) content rating.
And that’s not all. The “Island of Death” episodes (5 & 6) ventured into fantasy, gore, horror, and creature genres, dishing out shocks and horrors aplenty—at least they were R-rated. It makes one wonder if a slasher genre is up next to deliver some twisted form of poetic justice. Even in an age where violent and sensational content is easily accessible via YouTube and OTT platforms, one has to question the necessity of displaying such explicit material on a TV network.
Then, did The Escape of the Seven at least try to offer a deep dive into the social issues and crimes it portrays? Sadly, evidence of thoughtful deliberation is hard to come by. While some critiques on the power of fake news and the dark sides of the entertainment industry are somewhat impactful, that’s pretty much where it ends. The drama seems preoccupied with stringing together shocking scenes for the sake of ratings and buzz. Even if these sequences supposedly lead to some cathartic resolution, the mental and physical suffering endured by high schooler Bang Da Mi is too painful to watch.
Nor can one overlook the gaping plot holes. The idea that Da Mi’s stepfather, Lee Hwi So (Min Young Ki), undergoes plastic surgery to become the global mobile platform CEO Matthew Lee (Um Ki Joon) is laughable. The absurdity extends to friends believing Bang Da Mi gave birth when standing next to a visibly pale-faced Han Mo Ne (Lee Yubi), not to mention Mo Ne auditioning and running around right after childbirth. Let’s not forget how Bang Da Mi suddenly becomes Mo Ne’s fangirl, or how Lee Hwi So gets accused of “impregnating Da Mi” with no concrete evidence to back it up. These inconsistencies serve only to disrupt the audience’s immersion. Amidst all this, the characters constantly yell and throw fits, adding to the overall confusion.
In the latest episode, the root of all evil, K (Kim Do Hoon), started making moves, signaling that Matthew Lee’s path to revenge won’t be smooth. The road ahead seems predictable enough: the seven villains will be too busy tearing each other apart, and despite various machinations from K and the seven, Matthew Lee will ultimately get his revenge. Whether The Escape of the Seven will be remembered as an unprecedented revenge drama or simply an overload of sensationalism and vulgarity remains to be seen. But I have to say, the latter seems more likely. In fact, I ask myself this—is season 2 even necessary? (4/10)
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.