They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but on Eve – tvN’s latest ‘revenge melodrama’ – it comes wrapped in scandalous affairs, clandestine trysts, crystal cut diamonds, sparkling champagne chutes and flowing gowns. The sordid private affairs of the rich often make for an entertaining watch, but when they come with a side of bloodthirsty revenge, the fun usually seems to double… most of the time. If you’re still confused, let us be clear: unfortunately for Eve, the fun has yet to begin despite being four episodes in.
This epic tale of revenge and betrayal – or so it is touted as – has a painfully simple plot. When she was a teenager, Lee Ra-el’s (Seo Ye-ji) father was brutally tortured to death by the machinations of Kang Yoon-gyeom (Park Byung-eun), CEO of LY Group, and Han Pan-ro (Jeon Kook-hwan), a politician – later prime minister – who loves feeding his enemies to his hounds. Shortly after, her mother, too, went missing, and her father’s company was forcibly taken over by the LY Group.
To save her life, Ra-el escapes South Korea with the help of Seo Eun-pyeong (Lee Sang-yeob), a human rights lawyer who later becomes an assemblyman himself. 13 years later, she comes back as the demure and alluring ballet instructor Kim Sun-bin, seemingly happy in her perfectly suburban-core life with her husband and adoptive daughter. Ra-el then engineers an elaborate plot to destroy Kang Yoon-gyeom, his wife Han So-ra (Yoo Sun) and her father Han Pan-ro.
As one might expect, said plot comprises some calculated moves through which she seduces Yoon-gyeom, all the while ingratiating herself with So-ra. This she does by gazing deeply into his eyes from a distance, making friends with the couple’s daughter, and by talking in husky tones about twin flames and the need to heal through dancing. Oh, and she also becomes a key figure in her daughter’s kindergarten class – because the rich fight their battles through money and in their children’s schools.
All of this is set against the lives of one-percenters of South Korea, who give the family in Succession a run for their (loads of) money. They treat people like objects (even hunting them for sport, if you’re Han Pan-ro), talk in monogrammed bags and donations, and use glittering parties as networking events. You get the jist.
Sadly, all the glamour, fashion and bad sex – that’s somewhat expected in a K-drama, so we’re not docking too many points for it – fails to distract us from the fact that Eve, simply, is a laughably unoriginal plot executed in the most predictable, boring way. Four episodes in, it is shocking how little the show has progressed despite the (marginally) interesting set-up. Really, all Ra-el has done so far is capture Yoon-gyeom’s interest – not a hard feat, since his married life was somehow duller than his regular life.
For someone who’s posited as the femme fatale who brings down a trillion-won dynasty, Seo Ye-ji’s Lee Ra-el is shockingly underwhelming. The spark of Seo’s previous work – the feisty lawyer in Lawless Lawyer, the desperate young woman in Save Me, even the fearsome, formidable writer in It’s Okay To Not Be Okay – is surprisingly dull here. She’s limited to mechanical smiles, blank, wide-eyes and bouts of weeping – all of which do nothing to show the so-called fire of revenge burning inside her.
Park Byung-eun’s Kang Yoon-gyeom falls prey to the same flaws. While the stresses of his life are understandably (or not, since we’re not filthy rich) monumental, there is seldom an expression on his face other than dead-eyed apathy or desperation. Really, he looks like he wants to escape everything, even the situations he wants to be in – hard to believe that this is the man who supposedly executed an entire witch-hunt that killed innocent people.
As the well-meaning lawyer-turned-lawmaker, Lee Sang-yeob fares better, but the show simply doesn’t feed us enough of him to say much else. The most interesting character out of the quartet is Yoo-sun’s Han So-ra, who is so extremely placed on the “evil rich bitch” spectrum that it actually works for her. So-ra is the proverbial lioness we’d loved to see knocked down – blinded by money and status, used to discarding people like tissue paper, riding on a wave of self-import, and a mother who certainly is going to become the reason her child needs intensive therapy.
One supposes it would have been acceptable if Eve simply were to be a bad show. Sadly, so far, it is one with lost potential, which is far more disappointing. Granted, revenge often is most satisfactory when planned to perfection and with patience – Eve, however, gives us a sanitised version of it. A primal emotion such as revenge is more beautiful when it’s ugly and bloody, but Eve doles it out in measured, unsatisfactory doses.
It’s as if the show is deliberately choosing to tread on the safer side as opposed to going all in, which begs the question: Why? Especially when recent output from South Korea has proven that the more primal your instincts and responses, the better the show. 2018’s Sky Castle, 2019’s Graceful Family and 2020’s The Penthouse were all stories about the cutthroat world of the privileged stomping all over each other with no mercy to get to their goal – all chock-full of moments that sent us reeling back, reviling the despicable greed of humans.
Part of the reason why these shows went down as instant classics was because of characters who were unafraid to get their hands bloody from the get-go, who wore their revenge on their faces like armour and moved with the sole instinct to kill. When it comes to revenge, the thirst for blood is more attractive than any haute-couture gown or concept car. There might still be a long way to go with Eve, but if the show keeps giving us superficial interpretations, you’re better off watching something else.
‘Eve’ airs every Wednesday and Thursday on tvN.