every trope possible – and then some

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To the media and the public, Oh Wan-soo (Kim Ha-neul) has the perfect life. She went from rags to riches as a young professional golfer, and now spends her time as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, working with leaders and royals from across the globe. She is also married to Kim Yong-guk (Jung Gyu-woon), a rich man who is poised to become the next head of the Hwain Group, one of South Korea’s wealthiest conglomerates.

But behind closed doors, everything is not as it seems (as is the case for many dramas with a set-up like this). Not long after their couple tied the knot, Wan-soo discovers that Yong-guk is a serial cheater with an abusive streak. Though, her love for her husband is not entirely earnest either; her choice to marry was out of necessity to help clear her mother’s crippling debt.

Wan-soo’s unhappy life soon takes a turn for the worse when a sniper attempts to assassinate her during a public appearance in Manila as a Goodwill Ambassador. Amid the chaos and barrage of gunfire and explosions, Wan-soo manages a narrow escape with the help of Seo Do-yoon (Rain), who happened to be in the area for what appears to be an entirely different and mysterious reason.

After returning to South Korea, Wan-soo crosses paths with Do-yoon once again, but this time he’s introduced as her new personal bodyguard. As she chugs on with her duties – now with Do-yoon constantly by her side – she is faced with even bigger problems: not only is her would-be killer still unidentified and on the loose, she also learns the truth behind the Hwain Group’s wealth after her mother-in-law (played by Seo Yi-sook) reveals they have been involved in elaborate money laundering schemes.

Are the opening episodes of Red Swan juicy and exciting? Definitely. From the inherent sexiness of a mysterious man who is dedicated to serve and protect, to suddenly becoming the target of an attempted assassination, to the complications of being married into a chaebol family with criminal ties and more, it’s all there on the packaging.

At the same time, it’s hard to be emotionally invested in the K-drama because it feels so inauthentic and cliché, like someone took every trope possible and squeezed them into a not-so-neat package. Making matters worse, Rain and Kim Ha-neul have a glaring lack of on-screen chemistry, which makes the “us against the world” kind of romantic relationship that’s being set-up for their characters seem bland and uninteresting.

There’s also a concern with pacing issues to contend with – we’ve all seen what happens when shows rush to wrap up a story (ahem, Game of Thrones). Red Swan will run for just 10 episodes, and with the number of plotlines that’s been set up so far – the Hwain Group’s criminal dealings, Wan-soo’s assassination attempt, Do-yoon’s entire backstory, just to name a few – the series might have bitten off more than it can chew.

That said, the one thing that Red Swan does do well is thrilling action sequences, which are wonderfully performed by Rain. He fully immerses himself in the many intricacies of Do-yoon, though that’s not reason enough to sit through the entire series. If a complicated, soapy plot is all you care about, Red Swan might have something for you, but beyond that, the Disney+ original is as generic as it gets.

Red Swan is streaming on Disney+ internationally and Hulu in the US

 

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