Rating:
Average user rating 5.0
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Private Lives: Episodes 1-2 (Review)

With its slick tone and fast-paced storytelling, JTBC’s Private Lives is off to a running start. In our opening episodes, we meet our heroine and her con-artist parents, and then learn the backstory that brought her to where she is in the present: a con artist hungry for revenge. As good as she is, our heroine is not invincible, and there’s nothing but tangles and twists ahead as she pursues her goal.

Note: This is an opening week review only.

 
EPISODES 1-2 REVIEW

Private Lives has a lot going for it, but it was the fact that the screenwriter of Heartless City was on board that made me the most interested. While no one would argue that that drama was perfect, its exploration of loyalties amidst the criminal underbelly stuck with me. Will Private Lives have the same elements, balancing love, lies, and double-crossing? After the premiere week, I’m thinking we have a tentative yes.

We first meet our heroine, CHA JOO-EUN (Seohyun), nine years in the past. She seems like your ordinary high school student — until we learn that her parents are con artists, and that they have absolutely no shame in using her to forward their schemes. Her mother, for instance, pushes her in front of a car to play up the fake injury/lawsuit they’re cooking up. Though Joo-eun plays along and fills her role (and knows how to get what she wants out of it), more than anything, she seems irritated by getting dragged into their plots.

It’s not until she witnesses her father pretending to be a legless beggar, dragging himself on his stomach through the streets of Hongdae, that she finally confronts him about what he and her mother are really up to. “Are you a documentary actor or a con-man?” she demands of her father. But, in the world of Private Lives, those two are pretty synonymous. Or, one is a euphemism for the other.

Joo-eun’s father has a big “documentary” he’s working on, and it turns out to be their family’s undoing. He’s taken his Hongdae beggar role up a notch with the help of JUNG BOK-GI (Kim Hyo-jin), a fellow swindler. Actually, as it turns out, she’s more like the mistress of swindles — Joo-eun’s parents are small fish compared to Bok-gi and her mega fraud schemes.

The documentary is going well (Joo-eun’s father cosplays a pastor and he rakes in donations which they all then pocket) — until it’s clear that Joo-eun’s father is the fall man. Indeed, using a fellow con-artist as a scapegoat seems to be Rule #1 in Bok-gi’s playbook. Joo-eun’s father gets slapped with a huge prison sentence, while Bok-gi whizzes out of the country to wear her negligee and sip wine, as a femme fatale like her is oft to do.

It’s here that we hit a major turning point for our heroine. Joo-eun’s desire for revenge against Bok-gi changes her life’s trajectory, and soon, she’s learning how to be a documentary actor herself. She appeals to HAN-SON (Tae Won-seok), who is something of her parents’ handler and scheme-maker, to teach her.

Though Han-son has said in the past that she has the perfect face for the job, he’s reluctant to take her on. It’s a great moment in the drama — we have still-innocent Joo-eun wanting to do whatever it takes to avenge her father, and we have Han-son trying to express to her that once she makes this decision, her life can never go back to what it was. He urges her to “live a life where you can trust your friends and the world,” but his warnings are ignored. As much as we can feel the gravity of Joo-eun’s decision, I like that she very willfully makes it herself, and chooses her path.

A quick montage takes us through years of training to become an “actor” and we catch glimpses of Joo-eun’s many roles. When we catch up with her again, she’s nothing like the Joo-eun we once knew. Not only did she go from a dorky haircut and a high school uniform to a gorgeous long-haired chameleon of a woman, but there’s something entirely different about how she carries herself.

Seohyun does a nice job here playing almost two different characters, but it’s a fault of the storytelling that we don’t really get to see that transition. Although we see Joo-eun building skills and know-how in her field, we don’t have that much a look inside of her. How was she able to change from an innocent student humiliated by her parents’ work, to a swindler with killer skills and a devil may care attitude? While I wish we got a little deeper look at our heroine, I’ll root for her anyway.

Just when Joo-eun’s ready for a break from her jobs, she randomly spots Bok-gi back in Seoul. Her desire for revenge is a little stronger than her sense of caution, and pretty soon she’s headlong in a plot to scam Bok-gi. Bok-gi’s latest creation is a pyramid scheme, and Joo-eun plays along as a participant, doing a fine job at getting an inside man, and even getting help from her mother to further her revenge plot.

Private Lives is as heavy on twists as a drama about con-artists should be, and we get a huge one here, when we learn that Bok-gi has just been playing along. Soon, Bok-gi out-schemes Joo-eun, and this time it’s Joo-eun’s turn to take the heat — and the prison sentence.

Something I liked about Private Lives is that it isn’t afraid to move fast and skate over the details, which takes a bit of nerve. I might have wanted the details and depth that were skipped over, but it’s kind of understood that what we’re watching is meant to be fast and slick. Because the story doesn’t settle with Joo-eun and keeps buzzing around through time jumps and time skips, it’s clear that there’s still more of this story to tell. And so, we’ve already followed Joo-eun for nine years when we reach her in the summer of 2019, fresh out of prison.

Though we’re finally in the present day (or the closest to it we’ve been), the storytelling stays slick and even somewhat thin. Han-son comes to pick Joo-eun up after she’s released, and sets her up with a rooftop apartment, a credit card, and the expectation that she’s going to start working with him again. But for all her strutting around Seoul and her fashionista skills, Joo-eun seems unhappy. She briefly resists Han-son, and seems interested in pursuing a “normal” life, but soon enough she’s back to her documentaries. It’s here that she crosses paths with our hero LEE JUNG-HWAN (Go Kyung-pyo).

First, Jung-hwan hits on her when she’s at a bar with her friend. Then they’re accidentally each others’ contacts for an information exchange, and Jung-hwan passes a USB to Joo-eun at a lunch meet-up. Finally, they meet up at a restaurant near the fake job Joo-eun’s working, and it’s straight-up flirting after that.

I liked Go Kyung-pyo trying on his dapper, swoony form here, and though we quickly hop through their romance, his earnestness convinced me it was real. After some momentary doubt, Joo-eun accepts his marriage proposal. We’re not told much, but it’s obvious that Joo-eun is searching for security, a home, and a normal life — the way she links arms with Jung-hwan while they’re strolling after a date seems to show us how much she wants something to hold onto.

But can their marriage work when it’s built on lies? Joo-eun has made up a whole story about her life, and Jung-hwan has no idea about her real identity. Still, they make it to their wedding day. Joo-eun sits in her bridal chamber before the ceremony — but the ceremony never happens.

The groom has disappeared, his parents were hired actors, and everything that Joo-eun believed was real is just another scam. It’s quite the twist on which to end our drama’s opening week.

Fool me once, fool me twice… I can’t imagine how Joo-eun is going to deal with the aftermath of her marriage scam. It’s so sad, since it was the first thing that seemed “real” in her life for a long, long time. Getting out-scammed is one thing, but getting your heart played with in the process is another entirely.

Though the premiere week of Private Lives was filled with enough action to fill an entire drama, we’re left with questions, questions, and more questions. I’m expecting the drama to stay true to its form and continue to zip around with time jumps, montages, and flashbacks, and surely after all the groundwork of the first two episodes, we’re in for quite a ride. Our heroine might be good at what she does, but she’s already been played twice, and it will be interesting to see all the pieces fill in when Joo-eun reacts to this scam. My bet is that it’s going to get tangled fast.

What Private Lives lacks in emotional depth it makes up for in style and intrigue, and it definitely suits the sort of story that’s being told. Much like Heartless City, we’re given characters and stories that are compelling, but their inner worlds are mostly left to our imaginations. While it’s not my favorite method of storytelling, it works for what it is, and doesn’t stop me from enjoying a good swindle.

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Thank you for the review @missvictrix

I’ve been anticipating this drama since the early stages and love how the females are leading this show. We definitely have two interesting female characters, a heroine (or they say) and a villainess to lead the drama who are intriguing in their own right played by good actresses.

Heartless city is one of my favourite dramas and I also very much enjoyed the double crossing, allies, enemies and romance all mixed in one and hope this drama does the same. The tone in this seems a bit lighter though but it gives the drama it’s slick caper energy so it works very well.

I’m also really excited to see Go Kyung Pyo play a swoony but suspicious character and am curious about his real motives and whether he is playing Joo Eun for his own schemes.

The cliffhangers are what pull me into a drama and so far I like what I see!

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Interesting that @missvictrix found Heartless City lacking emotional depth. I think the underbelly of that world was grittier than Private Lives, which is lacking that emotional pull of why we want to root for our FL to revenge on 2nd FL.

Baska, Safari, and a slew of other characters were given sad/tragic arcs that suited the crime noir genre. Hopefully it picks up next pick with the cons!

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I agree. I very much enjoyed how dark and gritty heartless city was and was hoping this would be dark as well

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I'm in the minority here, but I miss when tvN/JTBC dramas in the early 2010s. There was something raw, a bit off kilter, but unique with their dramas around this time where they were experimenting. Those were fun times.

I loved that Baska was an anti hero till the end, and the conflicted emotions involved not just for him but everyone else too. That ending though, uh open ended or what.

Maybe Private Lives will delve into the darker side later on? It seems more of a binge-watch, to see if it'll be a Female version of Heartless City...

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I don’t think you’re the only one because I also miss it. I also noticed that when Tvn and jtbc became more mainstream and catered towards more public friendly shows it became more popular. That’s what I found raw and dark about heartless city when I watched it a couple years ago, and fell in love with it because it didn’t feel like the dramas I saw on the public channels.

Even ocn dramas have become pretty boring and lacklustre except for a select few, and I found myself only watching 1 or 2 a year. I do wish they would experiment with more richer and innovative synopsis even if it means taking a risk which is why I think the Netflix originals can at least experiment with that.

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@inkcityxx IA btw! Even their rom-coms/romance shows were raw/off the wall/but had that tinge of nostalgia but not too much of it that made it feel fresh.

Unfortunately, once those channels became mainstream, its gotten more generic, same with OCN as well. I wonder if Private Lives will even go there like Heartless City did, 2013 vs now cable dramas are so radically different, its crazy lol.

I honestly think that K-drama land needs a bit of shaking. With dwindling ratings for most dramas and increased competition, its harder to stand out with something we seen before.

Netflix Originals do peak my interest, but what surprises me is there's no censorship/laws for their shows, but they play it safer than I expected. I read an article recently that spoke about K-culture/entertainment's rise now, and how K-dramas haven't gotten that one drama that's broken through worldwide like Parasite (Critical/mass acclaim).

The head of CJ said that it's only a matter of time when HBO and Hulu will make K-dramas. Now if HBO gets into the game, I'll very jazzed. I'll keep an eye out for Pachinko (Apple) to be the drama that does it. Sorry for the mini rant, this is fun talk!

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No worries, it’s been an interesting discussion!

I wholeheartedly agree. Netflix doesn’t have censorship but they are still kind of leaning towards the same old recipe for romance k-dramas for example love alarm and I holo you.

I also find it strange that despite k-culture becoming popular these days that a single kdrama hasn’t broken through pop-culture and become a phenomenon. Although I would say that this year it’s okay to not be okay was pretty popular internationally to the point that it was trending on Twitter for its last episode, which I’ve never seen any kdrama do. I do hope it gets its breakthrough just like kpop did because I want to be able to chat about dramas without it being exclusive.

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@inkcityxx Likewise!

Netflix has grown a lot in Korea since it first began there in 2017. 3 yrs later, it has around 3-4 million subscribers there, and growing. I think they played it a bit safe to get into the market, but hopefully with more originals coming, I hope they'll be a bit more daring/bold. Ex. Extracurricular. I did hear that Netflix doesn't pay for fees rn, but that could change, not sure if its a big deal.

I think that Netflix, people staying in more due to Covid, & streaming has helped broaden K-dramas viewing/appeal on a grander scale then 5 yrs ago.

I remember with Chuno, Jang Hyuk got an International Emmy nom which was neat (1st and only Korean since to get a nod). The Oscars allow for some rare cases for foreign language to break thru bigger categories, but the Emmys not so much :/

Maybe it's the cultural barriers? European shows like Dark/Money Heist broke through the mainstream. K-dramas are popular internationally, but they need that extra push to get recognized on the same levels as their films.

Pachinko (A Korean/American grand scale production by Apple could do the trick). Very curious if HBO/Hulu/Other Streaming services will get into the K-drama game, and expand it to another level!

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"Very curious if HBO/Hulu/Other Streaming services will get into the K-drama game, and expand it to another level!"

Oh god, I hope not. I'm already paying too much on each streaming service to watch my kdramas!

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It's interesting how K-dramas have taken off internationally, but J-dramas are hit and miss at best - 95% miss. I personally can barely stand most J-dramas, though a couple of the more recent movies are not bad. My problem is that everything is just so freaking sanitized and basically boring.

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@mindy What, people pay to view K-dramas ;) Jokes aside, reading that article from the CJ E&M Over-seer of content, and her interest in making K-dramas with other media companies made me think that it might happen soon.

Warners Bro. with Peacock, failed with Drama-fever, but I heard rumblings that they might step back into the game seeing the success with Netflix. Unfortunately, that means other avenues for K-dramas which means more $$ :/

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Yes, this, I totally agree about Private Lives lacking the emotional depth of Heartless City. It is missing something in an effort ot be clever with its twists. I honestly rolled my eyes a little bit. I'm hopeful it gets better too.

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Can’t wait for this week’s episodes! I have only seen Seohyun in her role in Scarlet Heart but I can tell she’s doing a great job. I’m excited to find out more of Jeonghwan’s backstory.

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Thanks for the review!

I was highly looking forward to this drama. I was thinking it might be sorta similar as Police Unit 38 (which I LOVED). It didn't grip me as PU38 did but I'm still on the boat to see what's about to unfold. Seohyun and Go Kyung Pyo looked great together!

Anyway, does the big guy like her romantically? I'm confused.

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It seemed that way, but hard to confirm! Thanks, for the reference to Police Unit 38, another kdrama to add to the list!

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Joo-eun calls the guy "Uncle" but he doesn't really come across that way. There appear to be some feelings on his side, which she seemed to pick up on. She even asked him about it but all he said was, "I don't know anymore." Interesting.

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I totally fail to see the purpose of the marriage scam. Not like she is rich or anything, so what exactly was it's purpose? That scene lost me. Am I missing something?

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I only think of the house loan money.

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Based on the previews, I think they were trying to teach her a lesson again, but I could be wrong because I didn't get it either.

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The drama showed that Seohyun definitely can lead a drama. That being said, I found myself a bit bored and found that the compelling reason for the revenge was lackluster. Her father was not very smart with signing something first, without accepting any money. Same with her mother whose greed blew up in her and her daughter's face.

Might check back to see midweek through the show, if it has enough suspense/intrigue to keep the viewers intrigued to stay. Also Go Kyung Pyo taking this show knowing that it's a female fronted story, and taking it for that reason is a positive :) ! Shows that he has no ego, and is invested in the craft of the drama, which is refreshing b/c actors usually want to be the main focus.

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My problem with this show is I am not sure why I should root for our heroine. Her family has god knows conned how many people for how long so why is it that I should root for one evil over the other. Heartless City gave us solid reasons for rooting for Doctor's son, here I do feel for how much Seolhyun's character yearns for normalcy but I don't exactly like her. I feel disconnect in terms of that. Otherwise its a slick, stylish show. But I struggled at times with the length. It went over 1 hour mark, I was yawning by the end in most part.

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in earlier episode, heartless city is also misleading us into thinking dr son is not a good person, until around episode 4 and as if the police officer is the one who is our protagonist. admit it, if we don't know the male lead is JKH, we would think he is the villain. what i mean is, we should'nt treated the first episode at face value. I think the writers want to potray something different. to make the lead as anti heroine. and after what we have seen she has went through, and what upbringing she grow up with, it make sense.

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Probably, but to be honest its too long, the episodes.....I am absolutely living for Seohyun's fashion though

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Am I the only one sobb so much about Jo Eun story with his dad? that's just so hertbreaking. it might be remind me of my father who get conned by someone. and my father is very a smart person. but it's there is just some people who is expert at playing with our fate and circumstance and conned us because our deperation achieving something

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Also on a shallow note: Seohyun is puling off all these looks. And Go Kyung Pyo my <3, looks extra dashing here. He does look he did lose a lot of weight though. Side note: Yippee on him bagging a role in the new Park Chan Wook film :)

Wonder how much Heartless City, a drama I love and this one will mirror each other as the show progresses. And also with GKP + Seohyun's relationship with Baska + NGR's character, now that was a steamy albeit heartbreaking relationship...

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I'm a big fan of Heartless City. I loved the characters, the villains were interesting too. The writer blurred the ligne between good and bad. The flashbacks were really good and brought a lot to the present story.

I didn't feel attached to the characters in this one. The editing didn't help, I didn't understand the purpose of thoses back and forth on the timeline. If I could understand the FL's struggles, I didn't feel empathy for her.

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I haven't seen Seohyun act before so I was concerned when the story was hinting to her leading the entire first episode but girl held her own very well. GKP looks particularly dashing in here and I'm looking forward to learning more about his backstory and character

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I'm enjoying the drama for what it is, I guess. I enjoyed the first two episode. The second episode dragged a little bit for me but I finished it anyways. I'll continue watching for now. By the end of episode two, I'm firmly planted in Joo-eun's corner. Jung-hwan is going to have to grovel and try to convince her why he's not the PoS he comes across as. I get it that Joo-eun's also a con artist, but even in that profession, you don't stoop so low and go for the heart. Dear Jung-hwan, haven't you heard about fury of a woman scorned? Go ahead and try my friend. I'll be waiting with Joo-eun (she won't be doing the waiting. She's probably plotting how to slice you into thin pieces) with my giant, endless pot of tea giving you the stink eye. (yes, I know I'll probably eat my words by the mid/end of the series as he's the ML but we're only at Ep 2 and I'm allowed to give him the stink eye)

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Since he is the male lead, I'm wondering if the marriage con might have something to do with revenge, so it could be more forgivable. But he does make a perfectly dashing conman for conning vulnerable women out of money, now doesn't he? So who knows? It could go either way. But if it was done as revenge for her or her family conning his family, then maybe she will not suffer so much from the hurt (pain, humiliation) she must be feeling.

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It took a loooooong time to set-up the story with these two episodes. I'm hoping the set-up proves useful for the rest of the show and was not a waste of almost 3 hours. Luckily once the storyline with Go Kyung-po started I was interested. And the end of the 2nd episode will definitely have me coming back this week.

Overall: not the best premiere week, but I'll keep watching!

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The second lead syndrome in this one is deep!

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It doesn't catch me right after the 1st episode, but after the 2nd episode I see where is the drama heading to
I'm in...... for conflicted romance between ML and FL. Yas!!

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Who I'm curious about is Han-son and what he may or may not be up to. He's the one sent Joo-eun to that information exchange and he even told her what the other person would be wearing. Does he already know Lee Jung-hwan? Are they working together in some way? Or is Han-son working alone and filming a documentary of his own?

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OOooooo dish me some twists and turns. I may really like this one. Strong female leads and supporting as well as loads of plot twists. I am almost sorry I can't binge-watch this one.

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I really want to watch this, but I'm trying to wait until at least ten episodes have been aired. After reading the review I want to watch it even more. Alas, I have to wait. Sigh.

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