Revenge genre emerges as K-drama trend, “Viewers enjoy personal revenge on bad guys that the society doesn’t punish”
Experts discuss the rising popularity of revenge series in the drama industry recently.
According to the broadcasting industry on the 20th, SBS’s drama “Taxi Driver 2“, which features revenge without forgiveness, is receiving hot responses following Netflix’s series “The Glory.”
“The Glory”, a revenge drama about school violence issues, recorded 124.46 million viewing hours within the first week of its release and reached the top place on the Netflix TV Show chart. Meanwhile, “Taxi Driver 2,” which represents the revenge of innocent victims of various crimes, recently achieved a new viewer rating peak of 16% and took the No.1 spot among weekend dramas.
Even before “The Glory” and “Taxi Driver 2”, “revenge” has established itself as a popular genre that delivers satisfying thrills to the audience.
“Payback”, which ended last month, depicted the story of individuals, who became victims of a cartel wielding law and money, returning to bring down the cartel using law and money. Last year’s biggest hit “Reborn Rich” centered around a secretary of a conglomerate who travels back in time to uncover various secrets after getting killed without knowing the reason.
In addition, other dramas such as “Vincenzo” (2021, tvN), in which a mafia lawyer takes down villains using his own methods, “Itaewon Class” (2020, JTBC), which tells about the rebellion of a young entrepreneur, and “The World of the Married” (2020, JTBC), which contains one’s bitter revenge towards their cheating spouse. All these works share “revenge” as a common theme.
Analysts say that the popularity of revenge dramas stems from public frustration over society’s inability to properly punish various evil deeds and criminals. Revenge that ensures those bad guys receive appropriate punishments for their sins provides a sense of vicarious satisfaction to viewers.
However, there is one notable detail. While revenge dramas in the past ended with the realization of social justice through exposing wrongdoings and sending criminals to prison, recent revenge series have focused on personal revenge that leads the criminals or perpetrators to destruction beyond the limit of the law.
In “The Glory”, not only the main perpetrator who bullied others with various methods, including using a curling iron to burn the victims’ skin but also her accomplices and the teacher who turned a blind eye to the bullying, are all punished with death or permanent physical damage.
The same is true for “Taxi Driver 2”. The evil deeds, such as the job scam organization that imprisons and assaults young people overseas, an illegal apartment subscription broker, a pseudo-religious leader, and other extremely wicked villains, not only receive legal punishment for their criminal acts but also face the consequences by enduring the wrongdoings they committed themselves.
Choi Hyang Seop, a sociology professor at Kookmin University, shared, “What ‘The Glory’ and ‘Vincenzo’ have in common is that these two dramas show individuals taking revenge privately rather than justice being judged by the government or law”, adding, “In other words, these stories are about the main characters catching the bad guys themselves.”
He explained, “Complaints that fairness and social justice are not properly implemented in our society have recently increased”, adding “Since the belief that justice will be implemented in public has become weaker, people have begun to prefer the pleasure from personal revenge rather than revenge relying on the law.”
The subject matter of revenge dramas is also diversifying.
While traditional revenge dramas in the past were limited to personal matters such as affairs or family deaths, starting with the classic series “Temptation of Wife” (2008, SBS), modern revenge dramas that give the spotlight to “dark heroes” or characters with special abilities who punish various social evils have emerged as a trend.
Revenge dramas like “One Dollar Lawyer” (2022, SBS), in which a talented lawyer who chases after the perpetrator who killed his lover stands up for the weak and vulnerable in society, or “Again My Life” (2022, SBS), which tells about a prosecutor who was murdered while investigating a politician gets a chance to live his second life to root out evil, are examples of stories that deal with social injustices against the backdrop of personal revenge.
However, there are also concerns about the increasing level of expression as the number of revenge dramas is increasing rapidly.
Revenge dramas often use provocative and stimulating topics, such as murders, assaults, and affairs, to give legitimacy to revenge.
“Eve” (2022, tvN), a drama that portrays a woman risking her life to bring down the upper high-ranking people in society, received harsh criticism for its provocative and stimulating scenes, such as torture, affairs, and self-harm. Webtoon-based series “The King of Pigs” (2022, TVing), which deals with a school violence victim’s revenge through a series of murders, received negative feedback for its bloody and violent scenes that caused viewers to feel inconvenient and uncomfortable.
Movie critic Gong Hee Jung said, “As OTT emerges and content competition intensifies, the level of expressions and messages conveyed through the works is also becoming higher”, adding “If revenge dramas only focus on showing characters’ anger, the thought behind why the character seeks revenge may not be properly portrayed. It is necessary for producers to make an effort to capture the essential meanings embedded within the phenomenon itself, rather than just showing it.”