‘Reborn Rich’ review: an unwieldy tale of cold-blooded revenge

Half-baked world-building threatens the foundations of this complicated new K-drama starring Song Joong-ki

Cold-blooded, carefully calculated revenge drives Reborn Rich. This new K-drama centres itself around the trials and tribulations of the Sunyang Group, a large, family-owned business conglomerate in South Korea (or chaebol). Surrounded by sly, shrewd family members, Yoon Hyun-woo (Song Joong-ki) sits at the core of Sunyang Group’s operations as its most devoted employee of nearly a decade. Things, however, start unravelling when Hyun-woo discovers illegal slush funds belonging to Chairman Jin Young-ki (Yoon Je-moon).

The slush funds, which amount to around $600million, were hidden through Sunyang Micro, a dummy company siphoning Sunyang Group’s assets abroad. To quietly rectify the problem, Vice Chairman Jin Sung-joon (Kim Nam-hee) appoints Hyun-woo as the head of the company’s finance team and instructs him to retrieve the money. But after successfully recovering the funds, Hyun-woo is ambushed and killed, his blood on the hands of an unknown higher-up within the company.

In the split second after he plunges into the sea off a cliff, Hyun-woo finds himself in the body of a young boy sitting in the back of a car with three members of the Sunyang family – Jin Yoon-ki (Kim Young-jae), Lee Hae-in (Jung Hye-young) and a young Jin Hyung-joon (Cha Sung-je) – who claim to be his kin. He realises he has been reincarnated as Jin Do-joon, the youngest of the Sunyang family, in the year 1987 with memories of his past life still intact. Hyun-woo – or Do-joon, as we now know him – sees this as an opportunity to exact his revenge on the family for murdering him in his previous life despite his loyalty. He can use his knowledge of future events and his position within the family to expose their atrocities from the inside out.

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Writer Kim Tae-hee and director Jung Dae-yoon make their mark on Reborn Rich with steady yet forceful pacing, subtle clues hidden in fleeting scenes and a class critique through the gulf between working-class employee Hyun-woo and the upper-class family he toils for. The pace at which events unfold opens yet more questions, while the characters of Reborn Rich bear deep nuances and multiple facets, their motivations and intentions blurring with each passing episode. They elevate the overarching mystery of Reborn Rich from its source material, a webtoon of the same name, with immense substance.

However, as with most other chaebol K-dramas, Reborn Rich remains complicated despite its well-written, strongly directed foundations. One narrative that rolls together business, crime, family dynamics and politics is already an ambitious task, and when the fantasy elements of reincarnation and time travel are thrown into the mix, it becomes clear the series has bitten off more than it can chew. To make matters worse, Reborn Rich has so far done little to establish proper world-building and clarify the rules of rebirth and going back in time – if Hyun-woo was reborn in the recent past, does that mean there are effectively two Hyun-woos existing concurrently?

Despite what is looking to be an overwhelming plot, Reborn Rich boasts a spectacular, all-star cast that drives the series home. Song Joong-ki easily carries both his roles as the steadfast, savvy underling and the sharp, artful young man hellbent on destroying the family behind the Sunyang Group. Shin Hyun-been shows promise as Seo Min-young – a prosecutor investigating corruption in the Sunyang Group – however, six episodes into the series, her character has yet to come into major play. Despite being a supporting actor for the first two of Reborn Rich’s episodes, child actor Kim Kang-hoon steals the show. As the reincarnated Hyun-woo, he easily depicts the confusion, pain and coldness with which Hyun-woo reckons with his circumstances before exacting his plan of revenge.

With a talented cast of actors and creators who have already proven their mettle, there is no reason to write off the series just yet. Reborn Rich offers plenty more mysteries to unravel as more episodes air.

New episodes of Reborn Rich air on Saturdays and Sundays on JTBC and are available on Viu in selected regions.

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