Review: Red Swan suffers from a confusing, messy plot

Mystery and intrigue are the name of the game in Red Swan, the latest K-drama to hit Disney+ Hotstar. The series follows Oh Wan-Soo (Kim Ha-Neul), a former golf pro and UN Goodwill ambassador. She is also the wife of Kim Yong-Guk (Jung Gyu-Woon) the scion of the renowned Hwain Group.

The series begins with an inspiring scene of her speaking at the UN against human trafficking. However, her actions cause her to become the target of a terrorist organization. Despite the threat against her life, Wan-Soo refuses to back down.

We are then introduced to Seo Do-Yoon (Jung Ji-Hoon, better known as Rain), a former police officer who is investigating the murder of his partner. While chasing a lead, he learns that his partner’s killer may be connected to the Hwain Group.

A bodyguard is born

Both Wan-Soo and Do-Yoon cross paths in dramatic fashion. Do-Yoon saves Wan-Soo when the killer he is hunting tries to assassinate her. Do-Yoon’s heroic actions bring him to the attention of the Hwain Group, and he is hired as Wan-Soo’s new bodyguard by the end of the first episode.

The second episode switches things up and reveals Wan-Soo’s backstory, and her complicated and dysfunctional relationship with her in-laws.

We learn that she rose out of poverty to become a legendary golf player. Her marriage to Yong-Guk started out of love, but has since become a marriage of convenience, as he is having an affair with his sister-in-law Jang Tae-Ra (Ki Eun-Se).

In addition, her mercurial mother-in-law Park Mi-Ran (Seo Yi-Sook), who is the head of the Hwain Group, sees Wan-Soo as a threat to her status and is openly plotting her downfall.

Both Wan-Soo and Do-Yoon must now balance their growing feelings for one another while having to navigate the murky world of intrigue and corruption that is the Hwain Group.

Intriguing premise, confusing plot

While Red Swan promises plenty of action, drama and romance, the execution left me feeling more lost than intrigued. Part of the reason is the pacing, which feels draggy in the first episode, and rushed in the second. This may be because there are too many elements to juggle – the chaebol family soap opera, Do-Yoon’s search for his partner’s killer – in order to tell a proper story.

What truly shines is the acting. Kim Ha-Neul is in her element as the strong, graceful Wan-Soo. Even in the most confusing scenes, her talent shines through. Jung Ji-Hoon is playing to his type as Do-Yoon, and does a pretty good job as the poker-faced bodyguard with his own agenda. Both leads have some decent chemistry, and I was actually interested in seeing how their forbidden romance plays out.

As for the supporting cast, it is a mixed bag of performances. The standout is Seo Yi-Sook’s over-the-top portrayal of the volatile Mi-Ran. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but she at least provides a few moments of welcome levity. Jung Gyu-Woon is somewhat unconvincing as a man whose loyalties are torn between his mother, wife and mistress. Meanwhile, Kim Eun-Se is intriguing as the two-faced sister-in-law trying to steal Wan-Soo’s husband.

While Red Swan got off to a rocky start, there is enough potential to keep me interested in what happens next. I only hope that future episodes manage to wrangle the plot into something comprehensible.

New episodes of Red Swan air every Wednesday on Disney+ Hotstar.

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