K-drama review: The Penthouse season three – high-society melodrama, long past its prime, wraps with disappointing finale

makjang dramas, The Penthouse got into hot water

This article contains spoilers.

2/5 stars

All good things must come to an end, but for hit K-drama The Penthouse, which just brought its third and final season to a close, the “good” petered out a long time ago. This drawn-out closing season, which was extended by two episodes despite flagging ratings, lazily cycled through imitations of the show’s earlier highlights, until it reached a perfunctory and sappy climax.

Korea’s makjang dramas, akin to Western soaps, rely on peaks of feverish melodrama, often capped off with major deaths. In many cases these deceased characters will come back to life, or perhaps their long-lost twin will appear – or sometimes even both will happen. The Penthouse gave us several such moments in its run, but the body count truly ramped up in season three, and surprisingly few characters made it to the finish line.

Major character deaths can be hugely emotional moments in serialised drama, but in The Penthouse characters repeatedly died and came back to life with alacrity.

In the final stretch, Sim Su-ryeon (Lee Ji-ah) inexplicably killed herself, as did Cheon Seo-jin (Kim So-yeon), which was easier to accept; Logan Lee (Park Eun-seok) died of cancer, and Joo Dan-tae (Uhm Ki-joon) got the big death scene we’ve all been waiting for. Although death was an ephemeral concept on The Penthouse, the finale ended with Su-ryeon and Logan walking through a tunnel to the afterlife, connected by the red thread of fate.

Of the characters remaining on Earth, Bae Ro-na (Kim Hyun-soo) has become a world-famous diva and her former school rivals Ha Eun-byeol (Choi Ye-bin) and Joo Seok-kyung (Han Ji-hyun) are reformed singing teachers. Eun-byeol is now unable to sing, having dramatically severed her vocal cords during the trial of her mother, Seo-jin.

The Penthouse never pretended to be anything other than high-pitched, hysterical fun, but while the excess remained until the end, it lost its giddy energy and felt forced and tired. That said, a few moments still stand out, such as Seo-jin’s amusing inner monologue that revealed her hatred of Su-ryeon began when they both brought the same pecan pie to a dinner party.

Also entertaining was the scene in which a deranged Seo-jin mistakes Ro-na for her daughter Eun-byeol in the two-floor practice room within Hera Palace. She tussles with Ro-na and ex-husband Ha Yoon-chul (Yoon Jong-hoon) and makes them fall down the stairs, the latter cracking his skull, while she trips over the balcony, swings from a chandelier, falls and screams as the light fixture drops from the ceiling and impales her.

makjang dramas, The Penthouse got into hot water

Kim Hyun-soo in a still from The Penthouse season three.

Despite this deadly blow, at the very beginning of the next episode, Seo-jin is essentially unharmed and soon back on her feet. Seo-jin had been suffering from drug-induced early onset dementia, which led to the bloody altercation, or so we thought. However, it turns out she knew that her daughter had been trying to poison her and secretly regurgitated the laced wine she drank.

It’s perhaps not fair to hold The Penthouse to rigorous logical standards, but in season three it became clear that the writers did not have the slightest interest in being consistent. The wheels came off and the narrative increasingly abandoned rhyme or reason – and thus events, no matter how manic, no longer came as a surprise.

The show lacked consistency in its plotting, but most troubling, it also forgot about the apologies it had made to viewers. Early in this final season, The Penthouse got into hot water following the appearance of Logan’s twin brother Alex (also played by Park Eun-seok). An insensitive and messy mix of African-American cultural stereotypes, the character rankled foreign viewers, who complained about cultural appropriation.

Both Park Eun-seok and the show’s producers apologised for the offence caused, and Alex disappeared … until he came back. In the back half of the season Alex returned, with all his troubling characteristics intact. It’s one thing to be a little clueless about what may or may not be insensitive to other people, it’s another entirely to apologise for it and then flagrantly do the exact thing again, hoping people wouldn’t care a few weeks later.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened, as there was no backlash when Alex reappeared. But that may be because everyone who cared had long since given up on the show.

makjang dramas, The Penthouse got into hot water

Uhm Ki-joon in a still from The Penthouse season three.

And yet The Penthouse did manage to stoke controversy again following its biggest moment this season: the destruction of Hera Tower. Arch-villain Dan-tae finally meets his maker when he rigs the high-rise to explode and presses the triggers as he falls out of the penthouse window, after being shot in the head by Su-ryeon.

This moment offers a fittingly operatic end to the show’s major antagonist, but the resulting images of the crumbling tower edited in real-life footage of recent deadly disasters in South Korea, which didn’t go down well with viewers.

SBS’ prime time makjang drama was a ratings smash that delighted viewers with its stylised views of the villainies of high society, and kept us entertained with a steady stream of outrageous set pieces and surprises. But three consecutive seasons within the space of a year ultimately turned something lively and fun into a rushed and sloppy affair, where the writers were clearly scrambling to manufacture new big moments long after they’d exhausted their supply of good ideas.

makjang dramas, The Penthouse got into hot water

Lee Ji-ah in a still from The Penthouse season three.

The Penthouse season three is streaming on Viu.

Internet Explorer Channel Network
News Related


Xpeng-backed HT Aero secures US$500 million in Asia's largest financing deal for a flying car start-up

HT Aero, a Chinese company that is developing flying cars, has raised US$500 million from a clutch of investors, the most for any urban air transport start-up in Asia. The ... Read more »

Alibaba launches own chip for its servers, cloud computing platform in ‘new breakthrough' for e-commerce giant

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding has unveiled its own general-purpose central processing unit (CPU), the Yitian 710, for its Panjiu servers that will drive the company’s vast cloud computing ... Read more »

Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha star Kim Seon-ho loses endorsements after dating abuse allegations are linked to him

Kim Seon-ho, the star of hit South Korean television show Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha, was embroiled in scandal shortly after the series finale aired on October 17. The following day, anonymous allegations ... Read more »

Evergrande: concerns linger even as embattled developer's Hengda unit makes interest payment on US$327 million onshore bond

China Evergrande Group made its first interest payment on its corporate bonds in nearly a month on Tuesday as questions continue to swirl about its ability to service its massive ... Read more »

Jack Ma is on a study tour of agriculture in Europe as Alibaba's founder travels abroad for the first time in more than a year

Jack Ma, the co-founder and former chairman of Alibaba Group Holding, is currently in Europe for a series of business meetings, as the entrepreneur who spent one of every three ... Read more »

Nam Woo-hyun looking forward to starting heyday

Nam Woo-hyun performs his new song “Calm and Passion,” during an online press conference Tuesday. (Woollim Entertainment)As an early cold snap gripped South Korea, with record-low temperatures for mid-October, Nam ... Read more »

Japanese whiskey made from home-grown corn will take on Kentucky bourbon

In the vast, rolling fields of Hokkaido, northern Japan, the corn crop is ripening. The vast majority of the prefecture’s corn traditionally ends up as animal feed each year – ... Read more »

Wealth Management Connect makes positive start as customers rush to open accounts, invest on both sides of the border

The Wealth Management Connect, the new cross-border scheme for the Greater Bay Area, made a solid debut on Tuesday, with most banks indicating strong demand for their investment products in ... Read more »

[Today's K-pop] Infinite's Nam Woohyun seeks to outshine former self

(Credit: Woollim Entertainment)Nam Woohyun of Infinite held an online showcase to present his fourth solo EP “With” Tuesday.  It has been almost 2 1/2 years since he left to serve ... Read more »

Why Asia's CEOs fear inflation as biggest hurdle to coronavirus recovery

The International Monetary Fund last week called on central banks to watch out for persistent inflationary pressures but said it was too early to talk about stagflation. From the perspective ... Read more »

China opens VPN services to foreign investment in Beijing

The municipal government of Beijing has won the green light from China’s cabinet to allow up to 50 per cent of foreign ownership in virtual private network (VPN) services, widely ... Read more »

Chinese investment in UK welcome despite tensions, overtures won't be ‘pitchforked away', Johnson says

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he is not about to “pitchfork away” offers of Chinese investment despite the concerns of some of his own lawmakers.  Decisions to bar Chinese ... Read more »

Mortgage borrowers should seek professional advice before making a purchase decision

Prospective purchasers are reminded to carefully consider their own financial situation before making a property purchase decision. In most situations, whether a property transaction can be completed depends on the ... Read more »

Tesla supplier CATL defends US$9.1 billion fundraising as ‘reasonable' on rosy EV outlook after Shenzhen exchange query

Contemporary Amperex Technology said its jumbo follow-on stock offering is “reasonable” taking into account the electric-vehicle (EV) industry cycle, after the fundraising drew ire from investors and a stock exchange ... Read more »

Chinese market regulator fines Douyin, Kuaishou for publishing controversial micro loan ad

China’s two largest short video-sharing app operators, Douyin and Kuaishou Technology, have each been slapped with a 200,000 yuan (US$31,088) fine by regulators for publishing a controversial micro loan advertisement ... Read more »

What to eat during cancer chemotherapy to avoid weight loss from malnutrition – foods like bananas and miso soup that won't cause nausea

After May Chan Mei-wah began chemotherapy and radiation treatment for Stage 2 breast cancer almost a year ago, she found it a challenge to eat. “I had no appetite, experienced ... Read more »

FWD Group's IPO hits potential roadblock as US regulator asks questions about Beijing's hold over Hong Kong companies, sources say

FWD Group’s initial public offering has hit a potential regulatory roadblock as the Hong Kong-based insurer backed by tycoon Richard Li Tzar-kai seeks to raise as much as US$3 billion ... Read more »

K-pop entrepreneurs: 5 idols who founded successful businesses, from BTS member Jin's Japanese restaurant Ossu Seiromushi to G-Dragon's fashion brand Peaceminusone

We all know that music artists make bank from concert tours and endorsement deals … but the savviest stars make millions from endeavours that have nothing to do with their ... Read more »

Remix version of BTS-Coldplay collaboration released

SEOUL, Oct. 19 (Yonhap) — A new version of “My Universe,” a joint project between South Korean boy group BTS and British rock band Coldplay, was released Tuesday. Coldplay uploaded ... Read more »

Italian chef who learned about Asian flavours in the Alps and southern Italian cooking in Hong Kong

“When I was young my parents were busy at work, so most of the time I stayed with my grandparents in the countryside in Piedmont, where I was born. Most ... Read more »

Evergrande: US fund unimpressed as China treats credit distress, bond defaults with kid gloves

China is treating recent credit crunches involving private companies like China Evergrande Group with kid gloves, leaving much to be done to strengthen investor confidence in the world’s second-largest bond ... Read more »

Bowtie raises US$22.6 million from Mitsui-led investors, tapping Japanese firm's financial muscles and strategic advice for growth

Bowtie Life Insurance, Hong Kong’s first virtual insurer, said it raised US$22.6 million in its second funding round from a group of investors led by Mitsui & Co., getting both ... Read more »

From music to fashion, BTS is the music style icon

BTS poses at the UN General Assembly in New York on Sept. 20. (Big Hit Music)K-pop sensation BTS debuted in 2013 with high-top sneakers, bandanas, shades and snapbacks. While the ... Read more »

Hong Kong stocks climb to five-week high as Alibaba and tech peers, carmakers attract buyers

Hong Kong stocks climbed to a five-week high, fuelled by gains in Alibaba Group Holding and tech peers while carmakers advanced on upbeat sales outlook. The Hang Seng Index rose ... Read more »

Evergrande's debt crisis sates appetite for risk, forcing 206 plots to withdraw from China's land auctions since September

Chinese local governments have withdrawn some 206 plots of land from auctions in major cities since last month as buyers tightened their finances after Evergrande’s debt crisis roiled the property ... Read more »

BTS to join LA stop of this year's iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour

A promotional image of the 2021 iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour provided by the US radio platform. (Yonhap)Globally popular K-pop group BTS will perform on the Los Angeles stop of this ... Read more »

BTS to join L.A. stop of this year's iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour

SEOUL, Oct. 19 (Yonhap) — Globally popular K-pop group BTS will perform on the Los Angeles stop of this year’s iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour, the largest year-end radio show in ... Read more »

Hong Kong's property mania inflates prices of even the tiniest flats, putting affordability beyond reach for most first-time buyers

A real estate bull market in Hong Kong, the world’s most expensive major city for 10 consecutive years until 2019, has trickled over to inflate the prices of even the ... Read more »

CJ ENM in talks for taking over SM Entertainment: source

SEOUL, Oct. 19 (Yonhap) — CJ ENM, a leading entertainment and media company, is in talks to bring K-pop powerhouse SM Entertainment under its control, a source with direct knowledge ... Read more »

Aveda's sustainable holiday collection couples Asian representation with environmental impact, designer Phillip Lim says

When designer Phillip Lim, founder of fashion label 3.1 Phillip Lim, was approached by hair and body care company Aveda to collaborate on the brand’s 2021 holiday collection, he did ... Read more »

Alibaba launches fast-fashion shopping site allyLikes for overseas shoppers, taking on shooting star Shein

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding recently launched fast-fashion e-tailer allyLikes targeting the North American and European markets, in an attempt to rival Chinese shopping site Shein, which has taken ... Read more »

Blackpink's Lisa and Cravity's Allen Ma among K-pop stars starting to talk about the dangers of racism and cultural appropriation

During a recent online call with a fan, Blackpink member Lisa apologised for wearing a braided hairstyle that some fans said was culturally insensitive and derived from hairstyles over which ... Read more »

China's semiconductor industry faces a growing talent shortage as Beijing aims for global dominance in chip manufacture

China faces a chronic shortage of scientific and engineering talent that may hamper its efforts to become a semiconductor superpower and reduce its reliance on imported chips, according to industry ... Read more »

Why have menstrual periods remained taboo? Researcher and author aim to end the shaming of a natural process

Most women spend their whole lives pretending they don’t have a period. Girls are taught the art of concealment early – how to avoid leaks, how to sneak a tampon ... Read more »

K-drama review: My Name – Netflix gangland revenge drama starring Han So-hee spins its wheels after promising start

This article contains spoilers. 3/5 stars In South Korea, nothing is as important as family – you may be wondering, why start a review of a gangster revenge saga with ... Read more »

HSBC, Standard Chartered, Bank of China (HK) among 19 lenders approved to sell Wealth Management Connect products

HSBC, Standard Chartered, Bank of China (Hong Kong) – the city’s three note-issuing banks – are among the 19 Hong Kong lenders that received the greenlight to sell investment products ... Read more »

G20 countries' policies make it difficult to attract green investment needed to tackle climate change, report warns

The Group of 20 (G20) leading economies have significant policy hurdles that discourage green investment to tackle the growing climate crisis and around a third of them have yet to ... Read more »

NBA picks Kuaishou as short-video content partner in latest attempt by sport to move on from China PR debacle

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has signed up short video platform operator Kuaishou Technology as a content partner in China, one of the sport’s biggest markets outside the US, in ... Read more »

Alibaba said to be launching a server chip based on Arms technology this week

Alibaba Group Holding will this week launch a server chip based on technology from British firm Arm Holdings, joining fellow Chinese tech giants Huawei Technologies Co and Baidu in a ... Read more »

[Herald Interview] Seori: Sharing a piece of herself to make healing music

Singer-songwriter Seori (Atispaus)Facing the deepest, darkest emotions in life, we are often comforted not through words of hope, but by the presence of someone who sits by us silently, sharing ... Read more »