The Ironic Greed of the Rich & Privileged: A Review of K-drama ‘Penthouse’

Arushi Tandon
4 min readJun 4, 2021
Image courtesy of SBS TV

Warning: Massive spoilers of Penthouse ahead.

With the current climate in cinema and TV, we have stumbled upon a new genre of popular media on-screen that can simply be defined as “rich people things.” This genre gives us entertainment purely in the form of extremely wealthy people being extremely dramatic and peculiar. Whether we see light-hearted forms of this in Bollywood with films like Dil Dhadakne Do or the darker side of it with the critically acclaimed web series Made in Heaven, rich people and their problems never get old.

Such is the compelling plot of the internationally popular and acclaimed K-drama Penthouse. This series has so far given us two seasons full of high-adrenaline plot twists and a gripping storyline that leaves you wanting more. What it has also given us is an insight into the crude consequences of capitalism.

Capitalism as an economic structure permeates every aspect of our modern society, including pop culture to a very great extent. The millionaires in Penthouse wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for capitalism. At the same time, the series probably wouldn’t even be so entertaining if it weren’t for this economic institution that gives some people an inexplicably unfair amount of wealth.

While that is quite literally the basic plot of Penthouse, there’s more to this show too. It feels like a satirical depiction of the ironic greed of the rich and privileged. Despite seemingly having everything, including a sprawling apartment in an upmarket neighborhood of Seoul, the characters of Penthouse stoop to every level possible just to retain and/or improve their social status.

While that is quite literally the basic plot of Penthouse, there’s more to this show too. It feels like a satirical depiction of the ironic greed of the rich and privileged.

Hera Palace is the fictional apartment building where the entire plot of the series is centered. The first season begins on the note of a gruesome murder being committed at this palatial abode. What strikes you the most is one of the main characters, Ju Dan-Tae, and his absolute candidness when he declares, “How expensive that statue is! Why, of all places, did she fall on it and die there? Why?” In context, the character who is murdered at Hera Palace, Min Seol-Ah is found lying covered in blood on the top of the large statue in Hera Palace’s lobby.

The rich and privileged parents discover this amid the anniversary celebrations of the luxury condo. Their reactions all echo a similar insensitivity and trivialness to the incident. Nobody cares about the poor girl who has been murdered, their initial reactions are woe towards the expenses to fix up the damage caused by her death and if this will plunge property rates in Hera Palace.

And this isn’t even the worst of it.

It gets more and more obvious as the series progresses that these families who reside in Hera Palace are extremely self-centered and completely ignorant to anything outside the little bubble of enormous wealth that they live in. They will stop at nothing to ensure their own survival and maintenance of their status quo.

Min Seol-Ah’s death transpires as a result of a series of incidents where she is trapped and threatened by Ju Dan-Tae and another character Cheon Seo-Jin who she catches red-handed having an extramarital affair. They go to the extent of physically abusing her while threatening to kill her just to protect their secret.

While they are not the perpetrators of Min Seol-Ah’s murder, they are as complicit for emotionally and physically torturing her over something that was not going to affect anyone but their own families.

The series’ entire premise is based on the unquenchable thirst of the families to get their kids into the finest arts high school and the best of colleges. They will do anything and everything to achieve what they want because greed is never-ending.

This avarice isn’t just limited to the parents of the families, the kids echo it too. From ruthlessly bullying Min Seol-Ah’s character to feeling threatened by anyone and everyone in their school who dares to do better than them, harassing other kids who aren’t as rich or privileged as them is a seemingly normal part of their school lives. Emotionally manipulating teachers for better grades is also nothing out of the ordinary for the kids in Penthouse.

Everything in Penthouse further goes to depict the fallacies of capitalism in fuelling disparities and discrimination. Where the rich don’t seem to be satisfied and constantly feel threatened, the poor don’t stand a chance anyway. With the tools of a soap opera to dramatize everyday situations, this series does an incredible job of satirizing and highlighting the absurdity of the rich. Behind the wealth and glamour is a layer of dark matter that Penthouse permeates splendidly.

With the tools of a soap opera to dramatise everyday situations, this series does an incredible job of satirising and highlighting the absurdity of the rich.

If this got you intrigued, Penthouse is coming with its third (and possibly) final season today! It’ll be available on the streaming site VIKI for all international fans like me with weekly episodes starting tonight at 10 pm KST. Are you ready to get absolutely engrossed again? I know I am.

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