Remarriage & Desires runs the risk of being a bit too melodramatic for its own good, but its handsome production and intriguing revenge plot just about do the job.
This review of Remarriage & Desires Season 1 is spoiler-free. You can check out all of our coverage for this show by clicking these words.
You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, or a show by its title, and Remarriage & Desires is a good example of why. Seriously, Remarriage & Desires? That sounds awful. It’s a slight step above Love (ft. Marriage and Divorce) in the awful title sweepstakes, but not by much, and it gives off the wrong impression. Sure, the show is technically about marrying, and remarrying, and indeed desires, but all as a function of a soapy, melodramatic revenge plot that takes broad aim at South Korean high society on its way. In other words, it isn’t exactly romantic.
This is a good thing in some ways and a bad one in others. There’s altogether too much sappy romance in Korean drama, so it’s fair enough that this doesn’t shove more down our throats, but when Remarriage & Desires really leans into its shenanigans it does run the risk of becoming a bit too arch for its own good. Both its character drama and its rather fanciful depiction of high-class matchmaking — including human chess boards and masquerade balls — can border on silly. But the notes of how marriage, especially of social or political convenience, is so integral to Korean society work as a backdrop to a revenge story.
Most of the particulars are handled in the opening episode. Seo Hye-seung believes she’s in a relatively stable marriage with her husband, Kang Nam-Sik, at least until he ups and leaves her and their daughter Min-ji for a sultry colleague named Jin Yoo-hui. Yoo-hui, though, is a con woman, and when Nam-sik gets a bit too serious for her liking, she ruins his professional reputation and accuses him of sexual assault. Knowing that Yoo-hui has covered her bases to enough of an extent that he can’t fight the accusations, Nam-sik commits suicide, but not before revealing all to Hye-seung.
Hye-seung and Yoo-hui are both inadvertently reunited by a high-class matchmaking service called Rex, and begin a game of spiteful oneupmanship. This is only one of several interwoven subplots that Rex and its CEO Choi Yoo-sun are involved in, with tactical marriages connecting the worlds of business and politics as everyone competes not only for a husband or wife but for massive self-advancement and, in some cases, revenge.
See? Soapy. But that isn’t necessarily to say bad, just sometimes funny when it doesn’t mean to be. Remarriage & Desires isn’t shot like a pastiche; it’s a handsome-looking production that takes its subject matter very seriously, and across eight episodes, all of which run for an hour minimum, it tells a pretty complex story with real themes and implications. It’s only in the occasionally wonky, overblown execution that things get dicey, although there’s a relevant point to make about pacing. Eight episodes of this length is a tough sit at the best of times, but there isn’t always enough plot here to justify it. The developments will keep you watching when they occur, but it’ll mean wading through a fair amount of lackluster slow-moving drama to get to them.
Still, Netflix’s binge-release k-dramas always do well, and there’s enough meat on the bones of this one that it’ll develop a fanbase. What it’ll do to their opinion of dating, though… well, that’s another question.