Power and love may seem like they belong in separate categories, but when it comes to South Korea’s elite dating scene, it’s a package deal. The tribulations the wealthy face in romance and finance have been the backbone of many Korean dramas. The newest installment in this genre is Netflix’s “Remarriage & Desires,” a series that centers on the story of an elite dating service and its clients as they each fight to gain and uphold financial power in South Korean society. The mystique of the ultra-rich, their power dynamics, and their vindictive schemes make for gripping episodes that shed light on the secret lives of the rich.
The series opens with Seo Hye-seung (Kim Hee-seon) having her home suddenly taken by the government. Through flashbacks, the audience learns her life has fallen apart over the last year. Her husband leaves her for Jin Yoo-hee (Jeong Eu-Gene), a talented lawyer, and she deals with the aftermath of being a single mother. Seo Hye-seung’s husband, unfortunately, makes a huge mistake by entrusting his future to Jin Yoo-hee, as she later embezzles money from his company, then frames him as the accomplice who assaulted her. With his life and reputation ruined, he’s led to the dark decision to take his own life.
Months later, Seo Hye-seung’s mother decides to sign her up for the exclusive dating service, Rex. As she is a single mother who struggles to make ends meet, Seo Hye-seung’s mother is convinced that Seo Hye-seung’s only option is to remarry a rich man. While Seo Hye-seung initially has no interest in dating services since she’s grieving her husband, she decides to continue forward when she runs into Jin Yoo-hee. Now a wealthy lawyer, Jin Yoo-hee has her sights set on multi-millionaire Lee Hyung-ju (Hyun Wook-Lee), who owns a successful gaming empire.
The web of the elite Rex also includes other wealthy singles like Cha Seok-jin (Park Hoon) who’s the stepson of Rex founder, Choi Yoo-Sun (Cha Ji-Yeon). Each character has their own cycle of revenge that pushes them into Rex’s arms. Towards the climax of the series, Seo Hye-seung and Jin Yoo-hee are stuck trying to get back at one another in hopes of getting their revenge.
Eventually, Jin Yoo-hee’s true intentions are revealed to the circle and she’s arrested for her crimes. The remaining episodes tie up the rest of the cast with Seo Hye-seung deciding if she wants to love again and finally living without the burden of sabotage.
“Remarriage & Desire” has many complexities that contribute to its storytelling and symbolism. In typical Korean drama fashion, the series focuses on building its story around two complicated characters — the heroine and the villain. Both Seo Hye-seung and Jin Yoo-hee have messy pasts that involve heartbreak and abandonment from the people they loved the most. Seo Hye-seung is shattered when her husband leaves her for Jin Yoo-hee, and Jin Yoo-hee lives with the pain of being an illegitimate daughter of a politician.
Another part of the drama formula is that each character has the same motivation, which is to enact revenge on their enemies. Although at times this revenge can be petty, such as Jin Yoo-hee sabotaging Seo Hye-seung’s work, both women want to survive the harsh class system. Midway through the series, however, the redemption of the heroine reminds her of what is actually important: peace. She realizes that there’s no point in trying to prove herself if the class system is designed to keep people in a vicious cycle.
As simplistic as peace might seem, it’s extremely difficult to obtain in a society that values financial power and status. It’s also why Rex’s origins come from a place of necessity, as plenty of women are desperate to maintain a spot in the upper class. “Remarriage & Desire ” makes it abundantly clear that women dominate Rex’s clientele, and that it’s a cut-throat competition to become the trophy wife for South Korea’s richest men.
Choi Yoo-Sun asserts in the first episode that “marriage is a strategy that provides trust and security for everyone,” and this defines the intentions of the show perfectly. Every match is specifically designed to ensure a successful public image that can lead to an even more successful career for the men. Despite the female clients coming from prestigious colleges and being career women, they’re reduced to being the perfect accomplice to their future husband’s career.
“Remarriage & Desire” works well because it focuses on a mature audience, specifically women over 40 who are divorced. It’s a refreshing take for a Korean drama since many popular dramas prefer characters in their early to mid-20s. Seo Hye-seung being a 45 year old mother gives viewers a better perspective of the turmoil women can be forced to live in.
Marriage in the series is upheld with a sense of great importance. It goes beyond matchmaking and is used as a tool to create a respectable appearance. While gender roles have obvious negative effects on women, the societal pressures for both parties create an exhausting desperation that doesn’t allow empathy or romance. Capital gain is of the utmost importance, hence each man and woman who seeks Rex’s services view one another as an economic boost.
Even with its cynical tone, watching the loveless lives of the elite unfurl points out the flaws of the upper class. It exemplifies how matchmaking in Korean society is for the collective, rather than the individual. With competition being so cutthroat, there’s little room for individuality and living one’s truth. “Remarriage & Desire” uplifts the soft, yet determined nature of Seo Hye-seung by allowing her character to prevail through every obstacle Jin Yoo-hee sets in front of her.
“Remarriage & Desire” is composed of many lessons and themes. Lust, greed, and revenge prove to be the temporary and deadly sins that each character has to overcome. Even though her rampant wickedness, Jin Yoo-hee’s character tells the somber narrative of those who are failed by the elite system. The series reminds viewers how unkind wealth is to those less fortunate. It’s impossible to climb up the social ladder without power, and “Remarriage & Desire” shows the complexities that those born into wealth struggle with.
“Remarriage & Desire” is available to stream on Netflix.
By Adia Carter