7 Escape: War for Survival: Episode 1 (First Impressions)
Let the wild makjang ride begin! But also, brace yourself, because 7 Escape: War for Survival is as crazy as it gets. And while we’re only at the cusp of the revenge scheme that’s the basis for the whole setup, thankfully the drama makes it clear exactly what we’re getting into.
Editor’s note: This is an Episode 1 review only. For a place to chat about the entire drama, visit the Drama Hangout.
Once upon a time I reviewed the first episode of Penthouse, and barely made it out alive. Now, our makjang masterminds are back with their next series (also promising to be a multi-season drama), and I’m also back in front of my screen, trying to make sense of what’s unfolding before me.
While there’s a part of me that appreciates the all-in approach to this kind of storytelling, and the deep-seated archetypes they rely on (evil mom, b*tchy high school princess, sickly and innocent young heroine), there’s something about the delivery of this kind of story that gets under my skin, and not in a good way. I don’t feel good afterwards, and call me crazy but that’s become my criterion for any entertainment I’m spending my time on. And as for why the drama doesn’t really make you feel “good,” let’s dive on in and see why.
After a quick tease of the desperately escaping seven characters of our title, our drama rewinds to 2018, and we start with a warm and fluffy sequence that’s too good to be true. A sweet and innocent high school girl BANG DA-MI (Jung Ra-el) is leaving the good-hearted and loving parents who once adopted her, and is going to Seoul to live with the mother who once put her up for adoption. Da-mi’s adoptive parents make this sacrifice for their daughter’s good, and are grateful that she’ll live in luxury and with the medical care they have trouble affording (Da-mi, of course, has a congenital heart disorder and is very weak, especially in the rain)(Summer Scent, is that you??).
Da-mi’s biological mom is GEUM RA-HEE (a very pretty Hwang Jung-eum whom I now firmly believe was created for this genre) and yeah, her niceness is a total facade. Once she has her daughter in Seoul, her true colors quickly come out one by one until we realize that: a) she’s a total snake and b) she only recognizes Da-mi because she wants to get into the good graces of Da-mi’s paternal grandfather, CHAIRMAN BANG (Lee Deok-hwa).
We’re left to infer that Ra-hee got pregnant by Chairman Bang’s son — I can guess — and put her up for adoption out of convenience. Now, though, she wants the daughter back because she’s a potential heir, and the battle for that family wealth is on. Outside of Ra-hee using her daughter to get in on it, there’s another player on the field: the gold-digging gynecologist CHA JOO-RAN (Shin Eun-kyung), who’s busy ingratiating herself to the chairman.
Now is a good time to take a quick pause and appreciate all the mainstay elements we have in place: two-faced greedy people, love and affection abused for personal gain, obscene wealth, loads of yelling, and countless things broken. Whether it’s Chairman-Grandpa breaking his china because he’s pissed there’s too much syrup in it, or the entire nightclub that gets shattered to bits (more on that next) — if there’s one thing we need to do for this drama it’s bring our earplugs. And also watch out if there’s anything breakable around.
In a concurrent plot line, we meet another batch of characters. The cheesy lowlife entertainment company CEO YANG JIN-MO (oh how I love Yoon Jong-hoon) has been busy poaching the current it-actress to his company and making mayhem in the dramaverse. It turns out, Ra-hee is also in the entertainment business, and runs the studio that’s looking to produce a huge hit drama with Jin-mo’s actress… except he keeps increasing the actress’s episode fee.
In addition to being a greedy lowlife, Jin-mo will also do whatever it takes to be successful, so the wrecked nightclub scene we open with looks like an “attack” from a competitor — but he’s actually orchestrated the whole thing himself. Dude’s even willing to get stabbed in the gut to make this look official.
Now, the head hitman he hired for this gig is an appropriately-desperate man named MIN DO-HYUK (Lee Joon, lezgo!). Perfectly fitting his character archetype, Do-hyuk is pushed to the brink of desperation and self-hatred — he adores his mother but he’s stolen her security deposit, he’s desperate to help her be safe and secure but his actions keep bringing on the opposite, and he loves his upstanding younger brother but also isn’t above letting him take the fall.
Do-hyuk strikes you as someone who means well, but who’s constantly facing trouble. And currently, his trouble is that Jin-mo has double-crossed him. Rather than pay him handsomely for the fake hit, he calls the cops on Do-hyuk and makes this desperate young chap even more so.
For the third component of this insanely intertwined and strangely disturbing tale, we have Da-mi’s new bestie at high school, HAN MO-NE (Lee Yubi, why are you so good at being terrifying?). Of course, Mo-ne is beautiful, rich, popular, and acts kind so everyone loves her and she’s the queen bee of the school. But, behind the curtain, she manipulates literally everything, from the bullies who are at her beck and call, to the homeroom teacher (Jo Yoon-hee) she so kindly bribes. It’s not a unique setup, but there’s something about the abject power she has that makes it horrible.
For reasons we slowly see unfold, Mo-ne latches onto Da-mi, who’s the innocent countryside girl in every sense of the world. Da-mi adores her new amazing friend and is too naive to see a thing beyond what’s in front of her – whether it’s her mom’s psychotic behavior, or the creepy way that Mo-ne quickly molds Da-mi into her image…
Mo-ne, you see, is desperate to become a celebrity, and beyond pulling all the strings at her school, she’s also got a lot of string-pulling going with none other than Jin-mo. We don’t see much of their interactions, but she’s with him in his swanky hotel room one night — although, we’re first left to question if it’s Mo-ne or Da-mi, since we only see the bobbed hair cut they both now have, and the luxury beanie that Mo-ne bought for Da-mi (and maybe herself?).
Before their conversation can progress, they’re interrupted by Do-hyuk, who charges in ready for Jin-mo’s blood. A fight ensues, but Jin-mo soon escapes thanks to some help from his beanie-wearing visitor who slashes Do-hyuk with her name tag pin. That name tag just so happens to read: Bang Da-mi. Now, we’re not dumb, and at this point we can figure out what game Mo-ne is playing, but the drama doubles down and confirms this for us: we see Mo-ne purposefully “choosing” Da-mi since their looks are so similar.
The long and short of the hotel disaster is that: a) Da-mi gets outed by Do-hyuk as the one who was there, and b) Mo-ne gets Do-hyuk arrested and thus puts herself in the good graces of Jin-mo. But there’s just one problem. Not five minutes later she’s clutching her abdomen in agony, stumbling into the art room, and collapsing on the floor. That’s right folks, she’s been secretly pregnant this whole time, and gives birth (somehow?!) on the floor of the art room and looks about half dead when Da-mi arrives on the scene.
On death’s door — but not enough to lose her head — Mo-ne has Da-mi run off with the infant into the pounding rain, takes photos of her running away, implies to all her friends that Da-mi is the one who’s got Problems, and then runs off after her. God only knows what’s going to happen to that poor infant. As for Da-mi, she’s rain-soaked and emotionally obliterated and clutching her chest. It only gets worse when she tries to go “home” but her “mom” instead punches her in the face — yes — because she missed dinner at home with the chairman. Suffice it to say, no one is very gracious in this tale.
So there we have it! That’s Episode 1, with 16 more to go, and I have a feeling it’s only going to get more crazy. There are several characters from the set of the seven that we still need to be introduced to, or meet more deeply, and then there’s the entire death (?) that sets off the revenge scheme in the first place.
Now, I have my suspicions about the whos and whens and hows, but really, more than curiosity, I feel relief that this is as far as I plan to travel. While I can’t deny the drama was “entertaining” by the standards of a dictionary definition, it was not the sort of entertaining that makes me particularly enjoy myself. And while I love a good villain or a dive into the realm of moral grayness, this drama simply has no characters to like — all of them being either too textbook terrible or too pathetic. Without anyone to root for, the wild plot machinations are all we’ve got. And while that’s rather the point of the genre, for me, it’s a pass.
- Premiere Watch: 7 Escape: War for Survival
- Playing whodunit with Eom Ki-joon in War for Survival
- News bites: August 23, 2023
- Hwang Jung-eum denies murder in SBS’s War for Survival
- Eom Ki-joon masterminds SBS’s Escape of the Seven
- News bites: February 25, 2023
- Eom Ki-joon
- Hwang Jung-eum
- Lee Joon
- Lee Yubi