Rating:
Average user rating 3.0
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Penthouse: Episodes 1-2 (Review)

Poised to be a big, juicy hit for SBS, their new thriller melo Penthouse banged down the door with its premiere week ratings (up to almost 12% by Episode 2), and a story that promises to be every bit as overly dramatic as we might expect.

Note: This is an opening week review only.

 
EPISODES 1-2 REVIEW

Penthouse seems like the kind of drama that is perfectly summed up with its first three minutes, which is actually a rather impressive feat. Setting, scope, and above all — tone — are made abundantly clear.

That introduction starts with sweeping aerial views of Seoul at night. A sumptuous fireworks display goes off, all visible from the palace-like tower we’re focusing on. The music is dramatic and tense, and the scenery is even more so as we peek into the building and witness the sheer pomp of the Rococo-esque ball taking place. Meaningful looks are shot across the ballroom as the music soars. A woman on a different floor dresses as if she’s an untouchable goddess. Someone falls from the top of the tower to their death. This is gonna be a crazy drama.

I came to Penthouse out of curiosity, but I think I underestimated how over-the-top this drama was going to be. Coming from the writer of An Empress’s Dignity I had some idea, but at the same time my brain wasn’t ready for the amount of screaming, fighting, screeching, abuse, affairs, and birth secrets we were about to encounter in our drama’s premiere week. To be fair, each episode runs up to 90 minutes, so there’s plenty of screen time to make all of this happen— and with fifteen characters to keep track of (I do not exaggerate here!), Penthouse needs all the time it can get.

Penthouse is essentially an ensemble production, with four important sets of players introduced right away, Their setting is the luxury apartment building, Hera Palace, and it’s every bit a social microcosm, with its power struggles, food chain, and the downtrodden outsiders.

From the get-go, the stories and conflicts are pretty well laid out, as are the strings that connect them. We meet CHEON SEO-JIN (an excellently evil Kim So-yeon), who was a top soprano and is now vocal teacher to the uber-wealthy (which she is too, living at Hera).

Her husband is surgeon HA YOON-CHEOL (Yoon Jong-hoon, a slightly odd choice for this role), and the two clash on an hourly basis. At first, he seems real and relatable, calling out his wife’s money-grubbing phoniness, but really, he’s just as bad himself, with money being his endgame as well. Finally, their daughter is also a player here, and she’s getting pressured beyond reason to follow in her mother’s soprano star footsteps.

Next there is the family that resides in the penthouse among penthouses — JOO DAN-TAE (Eom Ki-joon), his wife SHIM SOO-RYUN (Lee Jia), and their twin teens. I’ve never seen Eom Ki-joon play a nice guy, but he really does seedy and evil so well that I can’t complain, and quite like him in this role. Even though I hate him.

He’s a complete snob and hypocrite, fawning over his wife in public, but then easily falling into an affair with Cheon Seo-jin the second she makes a very strong (and kinda uncomfortable) pass at him. He acts kind and loving, but really he is manipulating his wife and her secret comatose child, using the men at Hera with his money-making schemes, bribing the prestigious high school administration so his children are at the top of the list — oh, and he also emotionally and physically abuses said children.

These twin teenagers are JOO SEOK-HOON and JOO SEOK-KYUNG (played by Kim Young-dae back to his delicious type-cast self, and newbie Han Ji-hyun). One second you hate them for being vindictive brats, and the next you want to rescue them when you see how desperately they try to protect each other from their father. It’s all verrrrry dramatic.

The wife and mother of this terrible family is the closest thing we get to a heroine… I think? She has no idea what lurks under the surface of her “perfect” life, is clueless to her husband’s evil ways as much as she is that he is abusing their kids — but she’s also one of the kindest and most “normal” characters we meet thus far. So that’s something.

There are even more families tightly knit into the story too, though. There’s KANG MA-RI (Shin Eun-kyung) and her weasel-like daughter (like mother like daughter?), who are constantly trying to scratch their way to the top of the food chain, whether that’s at Hera Palace or in school rankings.

Then there’s another family of attorney LEE KYU-JIN (Bong Tae-kyu), his ambitious wife GO SANG-AH (Yoon Joo-hee) and their son. Like many of the Hera Palace families, they’re in a tangle with their chaebol families, or families-in-law, and it’s all very cut-throat.

What about the threads that tie all these families together? It’s more than their wealth and their apartment building palace — they all seem to have shared goals as well. For instance, the daughter of each family is an aspiring (whether she likes it or not) classical singer, so we have more than our fair share of teenage girls belting out songs in their operatic voices, and getting pushed by their parents to win top marks, get into the top school, etc.

This is where we get even more conflict than with just the players inside Hera Palace. We also have some financially-struggling “normal” folks. Well, if you can call OH YOON-HEE (Eugene) and her daughter BAE RONA (Kim Hyun-soo) normal.

Yoon-hee dropkicks one of the school leaders and knocks out his front two teeth in revolt against the school violence committee’s decision. She also blackmails a high-ranking politician for enough money to bribe her daughter’s school into keeping her on.

It’s supposed to be about a woman who’s desperate enough to do anything for her daughter, because we learn that Yoon-hee had the same dream as her daughter does: to be a top classical singer. So, Yoon-hee wants to protect that dream for her daughter (since hers got destroyed) — but her methods leave much wanting to make her a proper heroine.

Just in case it’s not obvious by now, yes — almost every woman in this drama was, or is, an amazing classical singer. You know, until their throats got slashed, or they used their wealth and influence to clear competitors out of their way. In fact, that’s exactly how Cheon Seo-jin got where she is, and we see an overload of scenes between her and Yoon-hee when they were in school together. Their fights are more than hair-pulling — they’re cruel, violent, and vindictive.

Even though we’re supposed to feel the despair of our downtrodden families, and the weight of the wealthy families that step all over them, it was a bit hard for me to root for Yoon-hee and her daughter (or any of them really), mostly because every character is so ready to scream, fight, throw things, break things, smash things, rip things, grab pointy objects, and so on. I saw more shoves and falls and threats in two episodes of this drama than I have in five other shows combined.

I said above that perhaps Soo-ryun is our calmest and most relatable character, but there’s one more to introduce, and she is MIN SEOL-AH (Jo Soo-min). First, she masquerades as a college student and tutors the teens from Hera (or tries to, since all they do is torment her). But, in a move that dramaland really likes lately, it’s soon revealed that she’s actually a high schooler herself. She is also a penniless orphan. Oh, and she also has the dream of being a classical singer, and has possibly the best voice amongst any of the other girls. At this point, I had to chuckle.

What are the chances that each and every one of these females has a glorious and operatic singing voice? I think they’re pretty slim, but whether they’re doing it out of love, out of talent, or because their parents are literally forcing them, this is one of the major conflicts of the drama.

Is it possible for there to be a drama out there that makes An Empress’s Dignity look sane? Yes, there is, and it’s called Penthouse. I started off with a no judgement approach, ready for some good crazy, but as the half hour episodes ticked by, I felt less and less interested in each of these characters.

While I give major points for the strong and well-drawn characterization, and how their stories come together in the same world of conflict, it’s just a little too much to enjoy (for me at least). The SKY Castle elements of uber-wealthy families and their cut-throat methods, I get, and they worked. But at the same time, this drama feels entirely different from, say, a recent hit like A Couple’s World. That drama was also crazy, but why did it feel so much more engrossing, and so much less… cheap?

That’s the feeling I couldn’t really shake off as I watched Penthouse — it feels a little lowbrow… but not even juicy lowbrow, which I’m definitely not above enjoying.

It’s no secret I have a pretty high tolerance for over-dramatics and melo, so what is it about Penthouse that made me want to turn it off? Is it the story’s mechanics, or it execution? Is it the actual content of the story, or just the sprawling and theatrical way it’s told? I’m still undecided.

Either way, whether you love Penthouse, or don’t love Penthouse, it seems poised to be a drama that people will be talking about, and have strong reactions to — and it’s certainly chock-full of things to talk about. And as long as those conversations don’t include chucking your enemy out a penthouse window, I think dramaland will be all the richer for it.

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"I’ve never seen Eom Ki-joon play a nice guy..."
well, I guess I'm the only one who remembers him as sad high school teacher in Dream High.

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I do. I loved Dream High and that was the first drama I ever saw him in. He reminds me of anime villains, with their glasses and intelligence.

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Add him in I'm Not a Robot,Scent of a Woman etc...I guess his recent evil roles stand out more in the colective memory than his nice guy roles...

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Thanks for the article. I started this drama because of Kim So Yeon and because I like the other cast, knowing very well that I don`t like any of Kim Sun Ok`s dramas. I did not have expectations. But I was shocked by amount of yelling, fightings, abuse and non-realistic scenes. I also feel that people will either love or hate it, there is no space in between. I found this over the top soap opera ridiculous and pointlesss. The thought that this drama has 2 seasons is so frustrating.
I wish all the cast well. I even want this drama to be a rating success for them.

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Yikes, count me in the "hate it" category. I could not get past the first 15 minutes. To quote one of my favorite lines from "Cheers" - I'd rather shave my head with a cheese grater while chewing on tinfoil.

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I laughed at your quote. The short version: I hate it with a passion. That`s how I feel when I think of crazy makjang. LOL

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i watched the first ep by accident and with my mouth agape
lol
everything is so over the top and the fighting? even the real housewife casts bow to them ngl
but what's with everyone wants to be a classical singer tho? i dont know that profession is highly regard in high society? i just....why?

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That whole classical singer thing is a mystery to me also (and I am NOT a fan of opera, 21 seconds is about my limit). Perhaps it is a "monkey see, monkey do" thing.

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the most annoying part when eugene's daughter keep blaming her and even said that she rather die than having the voice but cannot sing like girl you can still do many things with that voice your life is not over yet..everything are over the top hahahaha

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Thank you @missvictrix for the review.

Is it possible for there to be a drama out there that makes An Empress’s Dignity look sane? Yes, there is, and it’s called Penthouse.

Lol! Thos is exactly how I feel. And Kim So Yeon's character is so awful it makes Lee Elijah's Min Yura in TLE feel decent 🤣.

The first week eps for Penthouse was so OTT and I find my self shaking my head at the main plot: everyone wants to be an opera singer. Not any other instrument like violin or piano (aka normal dramaland rich kid instruments) but opera singing 😅. I also learned that I do not fancy opera all that much. Listening to them belt out songs and looking at their mismatched lipsync attempts was just too much. Oh and the backlit stage audition was hilarious too, why even. This drama is highly giffable for it's absurd plot. Too bad my phone memory is full and can't download the eps for giffing purposes (haven't downloaded Kairos eps too 😭).

Anyways...I've seen Return and The Last Empress and also some portion of Defendant...Ju Dan Tae is currently the worst male lead/villain to ever grace my dramaland. He's awful and even Uhm Ki Joon can't mask his awfulness as of ep 2. But knowing this is TLE writer....who knows maybe they will throw in a curveball and make a 2nd Lee Hyuk out of Ju Dan Tae...which I personally think is impossible. Because as bad as Lee Hyuk was....he never abused his kid.

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i was anticipating this drama because i enjoyed return and empresses dignity a lot. Is this drama just as over the top and dramatic as this director's last work? YES and that's exactly why i'm gonna stick with this for a fun and crazy ride. If anything i learnt from this writer + PD duo is that there is not a single scene in their drama that will be boring

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"Fun and crazy..." - yes, the perfect ending kdrama for 2020 season.

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I thought I was the only one when all were raving about how high the rating of first two episodes. I don't enjoy watching people being cruelly stepped just in the name of riches & fierce competition. I've seen a lot of that in this pandemic. You are being fired with no compensation or don't get proper medication/treatment for your covid19/other illness or the little ones starving, oh, you just have to see the real world, those lots here. I'm no saint either. I prefer something that give me lighter, humor (even dry one like Tale of the Nine-Tailed) and a bit positive vibe.

I think I will see how it's going.

I compare this with C-drama 'A Murderous Affair in Horizon Tower'. That also involved in, actually a lot, peeping tom, affair, scandal, human trafficking, poverty, classical music (pianist here), rich vs poor, etcetera... But, at least the old detective and the younger detective make it easy to watch.

I hope it gets better. I really hope so, the casts are amazing.

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Penthouse is a soap opera pretending it is prime time. I love it, lol. The drama is so contrived. Everyone is some kind of socio/psychopath except the poors and the maybe the stepmother. Everything is over the top for no reason. Also UCLA doesn't have four seasons, it is in LA, it has maybe 2. That is how I knew she was a lying even though she supposedly lived there. I'm excited for how bad this is going to be.

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"Also UCLA doesn't have four seasons, it is in LA, it has maybe 2."

I know! ...... *laughing*

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Those seasons being “hot with ashes in the air” and “hot with other pollutants in the air”

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Yup, this for sure "I'm excited for how bad this is going to be". I think the only sane characters in this drama are the housemaids, and I am not too sure about them. It's like watching what happens when the inmates take control of the asylum.

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This is so accurate!!

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I dont watch Sky Castle but this more feel like Return which is ....... bad
I dont like the drama is so atrocious for the sake of being atrocious. Love me satire and dark humor (which is my type of humor compare to the fluffy comedy ones) but this is not how dark satire humor is supposed to be played. 🤷‍♀️

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I really like watching penthouse, i only watch drama as a drama, it gives me extreme emotions , blood boils , arouse my curiosity which other drama cannot give . This is the uniqueness of this drama. Since writer is makjang queen what do u guys expect?
Just drop it , it is not ur cup of tea.
Just simple as it is .
Not let ur soul disturb with penthouse.

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Always with that answer. Even if someone wants to drop a drama or not they can still show their disappointment. Just let th say it as simple as that

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*them

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"I’ve never seen Eom Ki-joon play a nice guy, but he really does seedy and evil so well that I can’t complain ...."

Exactly my thought as I was watching the first two episodes of this show! He just doesn't disappoint when it comes to playing horrible characters such as the one he's playing here.

Was this show over the top? Sure. But it fits, as nothing about these people signals subtlety. It's all about one upmanship and steamrolling over anyone or anything while doing it. It's going to get ugly.

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Let the body count begin! Hahaha

I wonder how many will still be alive at the end 😂

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I suspect that the opening was just one of many bodies to come.

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LOL. Kdramaland has long associated villains with classical music (you know how serial killers are always playing music while they ponder their evil plans?) . This year they've decided to make it literally dangerous to be a musician. DO YOU LIKE BRAHMS sounds totally tame next to this cutthroat place.

I find it funny that the building is called after Hera, Greek goddess of marriage and family (lol, the irony), queen of Olympus, but who is always jealous and vindictive, planning revenge on the usually unwilling lovers of her unfaithful husband Zeus, who is also her brother by the way.

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That is true - I don't think I have ever seen a kdrama with a serial killer or other totally evil person that did NOT have some classical music - usually opera - playing as they cut up their victims. Given the amount of opera in this show, I suspect there will be a lot of chopping, figurative or otherwise.

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Lol. I think maybe the director likes Greek mythology 😂. In Return the FL law firm was Demeter. From wiki: Demeter is often described simply as the goddess of the harvest, she presided also over the sacred law, and the cycle of life and death.

Ahahaha

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Only time I've seen Eom Ki-joon play a nice guy is in I'm Not a Robot

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...it’s soon revealed that she’s actually a high schooler herself. She is also a penniless orphan...

Looking at you DDSSLLS and the FL character of Alice.

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And she is a talented, trained opera singer as well. LOL

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At 16 years old no less.

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Of course. And the other, equally talented, learned to sing listening at the doors. LOL

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This one is rich, or well-off compared to the first one; we can’t have a lot of orphans in one show.

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At least we were told the FL in Alice in a geeeeenius. 🤣

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We are probably genius too as we could stick with the show for our own reasons until it was finished.

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I was really looking forward to this because of the cast, I like them all but I find myself getting angry while watching the drama unfold left and right.
The penthouse kids are very bad but Ro na annoys me the most. She’s such a brat!
Her mom isn’t exactly a saint but her actions towards her mom are so uncalled for, someone needs to knock some senses into her and those penthouse kids needs therapy. A serious one at that!

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“While I give major points for the strong and well-drawn characterization, and how their stories come together in the same world of conflict, it’s just a little too much to enjoy (for me at least). The SKY Castle elements of uber-wealthy families and their cut-throat methods, I get, and they worked. But at the same time, this drama feels entirely different from, say, a recent hit like A Couple’s World. That drama was also crazy, but why did it feel so much more engrossing, and so much less… cheap?“
- Sums up my thoughts after watching the first episode.

Also, I would like to add:

-What’s up with the lax security? How did Yoon-hee and Ro Na barge into Seo Jin’s office?
-Eugene and KSY as highschool students??? 🤦🏻‍♀️ Come on now show, can’t you just hire younger actresses to play that flashback?
-Too much violence (verbal and physical)

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That's what I was thinking!
Not only once, twice!
What's up with the security...?

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Right?!
I assumed security is also top-notch since it’s a ‘luxurious’ building.

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Its contradictory, these details. If Hera Palace is such a Burj khalifa esque apartment...then the security would have never let Eugene even set her foot beyond front door lobby. Its all very grandiose but screams cheap to me. Sky Castle was more muted but had more elegance to it, same goes for World of Married...they all looked and felt high end. This on the other hand looks like a bunch of people cosplaying being rich.

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“This on the other hand looks like a bunch of people cosplaying being rich.”

- 🤣 😂 😂 I agree!

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If you like makjang and over the top theatrics, this is the show for you. Have not seen Birth Secrets yet, but I am sure that is coming (the high school girl?). And yet as extreme as the constant Screw Your Friends and Neighbors scenario is, I can't help but wonder to what extremes this Penthouse Asylum will go to next.

The wee-cap had me at "weasel-like daughter". This show is like the proverbial train wreck - you know a bunch of people are gonna get smooshed, but you cannot look away.

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I was annoyed by almost every single character by end of episode 2. I think the clueless pent house lady maybe the only decent character in the mix. There are other music/art schools out there for fucks sake. The kids are all psycopaths. The girl being bullied really thought she'd pull this off? I will tune in to see where it goes but may drop this.

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You are not allowed to drop it. This will give you two years of makjang in just a few weeks.

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I have a question, was Seol Ah the prrson who dropped dead?

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Not sure - I could not see her face close enough, and all the younger girls seem to have exactly the same hairstyle and looks. But I think it was the tutor, and Twitter seems to think so also.

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Yes, Min Seol Ah aka Anna Lee , the math tutor.
And it is obvious that she is the biological daughter of Shin Su Ryun.

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Poor clueless woman. She lived 16 years with a man and she did not know that he is abusing his children. Yeah, he had a secret room that`s why she did not know.

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this writer and makjang as expected always make everyone angry...i'm not even surprised...the characters are annoying but i really enjoyed it so far lmao..the ucla girl really remind me to hyena in skycastle but at least skycastle kids are more sane than kids in this drama agdfasgh

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I think this drama will definitely be one of those "its so bad that you'll love it" kinda dramas hahahah

Personally i definitely don't love it (I've only watched ep 1) due to the overdramatic acting which I think is borderline comedy. And as missvictrix said, you can't really root for the supposedly heroine and her daughter.

And yes, the drama does feel like a cheap ver of SKY Castle. At least our SC ladies had more class.

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Anyone hate Rona like me, I really hate that girl so much. OK she have talented from her mom but she always yelll at mom everytime she got into problem. What a daughter.

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I got so much high blood pressure/blood boiling just watching these 2 episodes I don’t think I can handle 18 more, whew

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