K-Drama Review: “The Penthouse 2” Traverses A Storyline of Insatiable Vengeance

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With a gripping plot and gravitating characters, we couldn’t ask for a better makjang drama than The Penthouse 2.

In a power play maneuvered by money and fame, the rich stands at the apex of power, while the poor descends to a bottomless pit. In such context, deceit and cruelty need not be predicated on reason.

The Penthouse: War in Life 2’s narrative arc is all about revenge. It features a tug of war between the greed of the offenders and the wrath of the abused. Life, more than anything else, is at stake.

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Title: The Penthouse 2
Network: SBS
Streaming Platform: Viu
Themes: Revenge | Dark Family Secrets | Social Inequalities
Length: 13 Episodes
Broadcast Date: 19 February 2021 – 02 April 2021
Main Leads: Eugene | Kim So Yeon | Uhm Ki Joon | Lee Ji Ah | Yoon Jong Hoon
Highlights: Intriguing Storyline | Powerful Character Portrayal | Relevant Social Issues
Related Dramas: Sky Castle | Graceful Friends
Overall Rating:
Re-watch Value:

Season 1 Quick Plot Round-Up

The talented middle-schooler, Bae Ro Na (Kim Hyun Soo), wishes to enter the prestigious Cheong Ah Arts High School. Her mother, Oh Yoon Hee (Eugene), who single-handedly raised her, straightforwardly discourages her to pursue her dream. Yoon Hee, herself, was once an undisputed classical singer back in high school. Unfortunately, someone stole her chance for the college scholarship she badly wanted.


Fast forward to the present time, the celebrated opera singer, Cheon Seo Jin (Kim So Yeon), meets Ro Na. The young girl implores her to become her voice teacher. But Seo Jin discovers that the gifted teenager happens to be her high school rival’s daughter. Ro Na now becomes a threat to the mediocre Ha Eun Byeol (Choi Ye Bin), Seo Jin’s daughter.

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A flashback scene shows Seo Jin had been bestowed the prestigious grand prize because of her affluent background. The award should have been given to Yoon Hee, but she was clearly at a disadvantage as Cheong Ah Arts High School is run by Seo Jin’s family.

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Meanwhile, another talented young lady, Min Seol A (Jo Soo Min), wishes to study in the Cheong Ah Arts High School. She initially disguised herself as a Math tutor who apparently studied in a famous American university. She braved the exclusive and lavish Hera Palace community only to suffer mockery and abuse.

Both Ro Na and Seol A deliver impeccable performances in their practical assessments. However, Seo Jin manipulates the scorecards and manages to exclude Ro Na from the list of successful applicants. Instead, she is relegated to the waitlist. And to everyone’s shock, Seol A emerged as the highest-ranked applicant.

The Beginning of Shim Su Ryeon’s Wrath

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Taking it as an insult, the “Little Hera Club”, the elite circle composed of the children of the Hera Palace apartment owners, connive to execute bullying schemes towards Seol A. The poor girl who also learned about the extra-marital affair between Seo Jin and Chairman Joo Dan Tae (Uhm Ki Joon) suffers from unforgiving violence. Seol A falls from the towering height of the Hera Palace and dies on the spot as she lands on the statue of Hera. It turns out that the drunk Yoon Hee pushed her from the 32nd floor.

In an unimaginable chance, Shim Su Ryeon (Lee Ji Ah), Chairman Joo’s wife, is Seol A’s real mother. Seol A was taken into an orphanage and was later adopted by an American couple. The adoption, however, was retracted and Seol A returned to South Korea.

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Su Ryeon, together with Logan Lee (Park Eun Seok), Seol A’s adoptive brother, vows to exact revenge on everyone who made Seol A’s life miserable. Unfortunately, Su Ryeon dies in a bloody murder inside their abode. In a perfect setup, Yoon Hee becomes the principal suspect.

Season 2 Quick Plot Round-Up

With the help of Logan, Yoon Hee escapes the penitentiary and quietly lives in hiding in America with her daughter Ro Na. But against her daughter’s will, she goes back to South Korea to avenge Su Ryeon’s death in the hands of Chairman Joo and Seo Jin.

Ro Na, after her mother’s confession about her involvement in Min Seol A’s death, turns rebellious and also returns to South Korea notwithstanding the danger that awaits her.

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As Seo Jin and Chairman Joo hold their lavish engagement ceremony, Yoon Hee and Ha Yoon Cheol (Yoon Jong Hoon) arrive at the scene as a married couple. It was a contrived marriage as they plan to take down their common enemies. Shocked by her ex-husband’s sudden resurfacing with her nemesis, Seo Jin loses interest in her forthcoming marriage to Chairman Joo.

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Meanwhile, a serious vocal cords problem makes Seo Jin unfit to push her 20th-anniversary concert through. But thinking that her reputation is at stake, she instead hires a ghost singer who happens to be Yoon Hee.

Re-admitted to Cheong Ah Arts High School, Ro Na aims to take home the most coveted grand prize for the classical singing competition. Come festival night, Ro Na, Eun Byeol, Joo Seok Kyung (Han Ji Hyun), and Yoo Jenny (Jin Ji Hee) vie for the daesang award in the classical singing event. But the prestigious festive evening turns into a bloody event as Ro Na falls victim to attempted murder. She dies at the hospital though.

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The Villains’ Downfall

Nearing their wedding day, the gap between Seo Jin and Chairman Joo, however, grows wider. But determined to take over the properties that belong to Seo Jin’s family, Chairman Joo plots a scheme that leaves Seo Jin without any choice but to push the wedding through. Threatening to incriminate Eun Byeol in Ro Na’s death, Seo Jin must say yes to the marriage. But their union turns out to be the start of her nightmares.

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Coming out of nowhere, the lady with an uncanny resemblance to Shim Su Ryeon intrudes the penthouse. She is apparently Na Ae Gyo, Joo Seok Hoon and Joo Seok Kyung’s birth mother, and Chairman Joo’s true love. Ae Gyo, with Chairman Joo’s prodding, lived the better part of her life assuming the identity of Su Ryeon to lure some powerful and wealthy men into favoring Chairman Joo’s illegal undertakings.

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In a well-designed ploy, Na Ae Gyo frames Chairman Joo for a murder case. The intricate plan also meant to uncover Su Ryeon being illegally detained by her husband in a secret hide-out. Hence, it’s a revelation that the identities of the two women have been interchanged since the horrifying event in the penthouse that supposedly killed Su Ryeon. After Na Ae Gyo’s killing, Su Ryeon has been assuming her identity and is on a mission to take down all her tormentors.

Ro Na appears as a survivor after Su Ryeon saved her from a looming murder in the hospital. She confesses that it was Chairman Joo who struck her head with a sharp metal on the night of Cheong Ah Arts Festival.

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To make an atonement for her sin, Yoon Hee comes clean and confesses to killing Seol A. Hence, the case, which was previously ruled as suicide, is reopened. Everyone who stands as a defendant receives a verdict. Chairman Joo gets the longest sentence. Upon the appeal of the victim’s mother, Su Ryeon, Yoon Hee’s sentence has been mitigated.

After quite some time, things appear to have perfectly settled. However, Chairman Joo, with the aid of Jenny’s ex-convict father, carries out a plan to kill Logan. Just when Su Ryeon and Logan are about to meet on a date, Logan’s car tragically explodes.


Empowered Women To Root For

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The Penthouse 2 presented us women whose characters couldn’t be more different. At best, these ladies were driven by their passion to equal the playing field- be it in the aspect of parenthood, career, or by merely asserting a dignified presence against prejudice. Oh Yoon Hee and Shim Su Ryeon are ill-fated women who tried their might to fight back against all the unfavorable odds thrown at their respective paths.

In the most unpleasant sense, the drama also visualized the uncanny ways which some women unreluctantly carry out in the name of honor. Cheon Seo Jin is a satirical character whose too much power backfired at her in the end.

Unconditional Maternal Affection

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One thing we can certainly take from the series is the unparalleled love of a mother for her child. Yoon Hee is a picture of a selfless woman who has remained faithful to her role as a parent to Ro Na. Despite her humanly limitations, she is a mother through and through. From making both ends meet to fearlessly facing death just so Ro Na could have a fair shot at her dreams, it was a bittersweet role she fulfilled with flying colors.

Min Seol A has never lived to call Su Ryeon “eomma”. Although thrust in a spiteful hurl, Su Ryeon showed how motherhood transcends blood ties. She was never short of loving the twin children, Seok Hoon (Kim Young Dae) and Seok Kyung, whom she raised as her own. She even looked after the child of the person who killed her daughter.

Lessons on Social Prejudice

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Growing up as a poor or an orphan makes one at least two steps behind their contemporaries who are otherwise “normal” in terms of working towards achieving their dreams. In societies where bullying is prevalent, this is not an anomaly. Rather, it is an accepted truth that people have to live by.

School violence, abuses at the workplace, and social stigma within the neighborhood manifested in the most tangible manner in the drama. Society dispenses unforgiving and uncalled-for judgments to those who have less. Especially portrayed in exaggeration, the whole point is hard to miss.

Standing up against injustice as best embodied by Yoon Hee, Ro Na and Su Ryeon is not just praiseworthy, but more importantly necessary in maintaining equality and balance of power among social classes.

The Penthouse 2 Afterthoughts

Ridiculously engrossing with its 13 episodes, The Penthouse 2‘s narrative progressed without any meltdown. True to its promise, Season 2 has topped the first season by a mile with the cathartic revenge arcs of the dishonored characters.

The Good Points…

The series presented us with characters who are cunning and power-hungry. Hence, it’s easy to infer that these people are masters of deceits in order to take something from the other. The drama gets all the more interesting when wronged protagonists learned the ropes of trickery and employ it into their own agenda. Hence, the battle of wits between the innately evil and the once victims created a good case for a substantial following.

Past yield point, Yoon Cheol beat Chairman Joo in his own game in the business aspect. Yoon Hee brought Seo Jin down on her knees after she comfortably sang in the dark corner as the latter’s ghost singer. And of course, Su Ryeon’s resurrection capped off everything as she got the better of her enemies.

The actors have been remarkable in the portrayal of their roles. Everyone made a mark in the drama as they take the viewers to the extreme of emotions. You would either love or hate a specific character, there is no middle ground for that matter.

Another good thing that I appreciate about this drama’s second season is the crucial redemption of some of the important characters. Previously displaying their despicable nature, some of them were given the chance to atone for their past misdeeds. Joo Seok Hoon and Joo Seok Kyung finally liberated themselves from the rotten world of the privileged as they found justice in the incarceration of their father. It’s quite telling that people are capable of leaning onto their humane nature no matter how wicked they may have been.

Most importantly, sans the impressive entertainment, this series has brought us, The Penthouse 2 is an exposé of society’s inconvenient truth about power struggle. While this has been an ever-present issue in the history of screenplays, this theme never gets old. Rightly so as sustaining this topic in dramas brings awareness to the viewers about social injustices.

The Drawbacks…

Speculative fictions, such as makjang dramas, require a willful suspension of disbelief to appreciate the story. But sometimes, extreme utilization of artistic license overpowers common sense.

Ironically, extremely over-the-top plot twists made the story predictable. With two resurrected characters in Su Ryeon and Ro Na, the plot seemed to have followed a formulaic trajectory. In addition, Yoon Cheol’s self-made wealth in a matter of two years and Su Ryeon and Logan’s sympathy towards Yoon Hee despite being Seol A’s murderer traverse the boundaries of logic. In such sense, the story loses some relevance and realistic touch.

But overall, the series has been a phenomenal watch during the entire duration of its broadcast. It’s the kind of drama one would remember for a long time. Viewers who are into nerve-wracking scenarios of revenge will surely be hooked on this drama.

We’ll expect Season 3 to match the intensity of this season.

Images: SBS
Streaming Platform: Viu