Episode 1 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 9 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 10 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 11 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 12 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 13 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 14 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 15 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 16 -| Review Score – 2/5
Right now, many companies are coming under fire for the misuse of personal private data. From Facebook being taken to court through to various security leaks divulging credit card numbers and addresses, this digitalized world we live in now certainly has its downsides – some dangerous and devastating.
In Korea, there’s a heated war against privacy and nestled in the middle of that happens to be the latest twisty-turny politically-charged espionage drama, Private Lives. Striking while the iron is hot, Private Lives begins with an exceptionally good couple of episodes and some really nice twists before becoming so caught up in its own flashbacks and politics, it forgets to craft a compelling character arcs in the process.
What follows is a drama so twisted and knotted that it becomes a blurred, confused mess by the end, tripping over its own feet and stumbling over the finish line. All of this is topped off with an ending hinting toward a second season that probably won’t arrive.
The main storyline revolves around different swindlers operating around Seoul, carrying out “documentaries” (the slang term for con-jobs). At the heart of this lies Joo-Eun, a girl who’s grown up with both parents consumed by this line of work.
When her Father, Hyun-Tae, is conned by a woman named Bok-Gi into becoming the spokesperson at a church, disaster strikes. Hyun-Tae collects donations from those in attendance, which Bok-Gi and a shady man named Jae-Wook take and flee the country with. This leaves Hyun-Tae as the one to take the blame for the con job.
With her Father jailed and her Mother hanging up her documentary hat for now, Joo-Eun vows to get revenge on those who’ve wronged her. This fight brings her to a shadowy company called GK, who have political influence and are looking to get their puppet, Byung-Jun, in a position of power following the mysterious death of President Choi.
It turns out Choi has a ledger full of incriminating details that could put a lot of very powerful people in a compromising position. As the fight grows, Joo-Eun sets her sights on a GK employee, Jeong-Hwan, who holds more than a few secrets and may be the key to getting this ledger.
As the season grows, plenty of twists are thrown in as we learn more about each character and their past. This quartet of main players – Bok-Gi, Jae-Wook, Joo-Eun and Jeong-Hwan, are joined by General Manager Kim Sang-Man who happens to be a puppet for the much more powerful Chairman. All of this leads up to a final conflict where Joo-Eun sets out to try and stop GK from enacting their dastardly plan.
While all of this sounds very enticing and politically charged, the series gets caught up in its own stylish editing with layered flashbacks within flashbacks to make things far more complicated than they should be. It’s not uncommon to find a rabbit hole full of spliced edits, jumping to the past and then further back as that past-iteration of a character remembers something from his or her childhood.
This is only made more confusing by conflicted ideas, a deliberately convoluted plot and characters that never really grow or evolve as the season goes on.
The biggest culprits here come from Jeong-Hwan and Joo-Eun. I won’t spoil anything about the former as doing so would ruin one of the big twists of the season, but Joo-Eun’s arc is easily one of the most unsatisfying.
Joo-Eun begins as an underdog, outmatched at every turn and easily thwarted through her plans that lack tenacity and after-thought. Sure, she scrapes through from time to time but it’s never done in a way that shows much confidence in her own abilities.
As the season reaches its conclusion, Joo-Eun continues to struggle and is eventually forgotten as more prolific swindlers surround her. It’s a shame as she actually has quite an intriguing past but the political subplot smothers all efforts to grow characters in a meaningful way.
While Private Lives does work better as a 2 or 3 day binge-watch, the espionage thriller ultimately pales compared to others in this category. This moody and stylish drama begins very well indeed but unfortunately falls off a steep ravine with one twist too many. Unfortunately this is not a show to remember.