What We're Watching: Little women
Within the past few years, Korean media has grown in popularity in the U.S. This popularity skyrocketed with the thriller movie directed by Bong Joon-ho, Parasite, in 2019, culminating in its groundbreaking Best Picture win at the Oscars. Not long after, Netflix show Squid Game went viral in 2021. Audiences praised Squid Game for its unique thriller concept and well-written characters. In the same vein, 2022 brought us the mystery-family thriller Little Women.
Despite the familiar name, Little Women is not a Netflix adaptation of the novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott. Rather, it follows the lives of three sisters who have grown up in poverty under the care of neglectful parents as they each become individually enmeshed with a dangerous and wealthy political family.
The oldest sister, Oh In-Joo, works at a bookkeeping firm. An outcast due to her poverty, In-Joo befriends a fellow outcast, Hwa-Young, who looks after In-Joo while harboring a deep secret of her own. As the eldest, In-Joo does her best to take care of her sisters in place of their neglectful mother and absent father. When tragedy strikes, In-Joo becomes privy to a series of illegal schemes perpetuated by her company executives and must decide how far she’s willing to go to provide for her sisters.
In-Kyung, the middle sister, spent a large portion of her childhood living with her wealthy great-aunt and learning about stocks and investing. At the beginning of the show, she now lives with her sisters and works as a reporter in a prominent news organization. Battling a secret vice, In-Kyung also struggles to keep her composure while reporting but excels at analyzing data and recognizing patterns. This investigative prowess puts her on the trail of manipulative politician Park Jae-Sang, who happens to be the brother-in-law of the former CEO of In-Joo’s bookkeeping firm.
Lastly, the youngest sister, In-Hye, is a talented artist with a weak constitution enrolled in a prominent arts high school thanks to a scholarship. As the baby of the family, she grows increasingly resentful of the sacrifices her sisters make to support her, feeling like a burden. She desires a life where she is loved for her skills and achievements rather than for blood relations. As such, she ingratiates herself with wealthy classmate Park Hyo-Rin—the daughter of Park Jae-Sang, who recognizes shades of his younger self in In-Hye. The closer In-Hye grows to the Park family, the more distance forms between her and her sisters.
Without delving too deep into spoiler-filled territory, the first episode of Little Women does a fantastic job of establishing the personalities, desires, and struggles of each Oh sister. Most of the focus is fixated on In-Joo, whose personal friendship with Hwa-Young and the resulting impact becomes a major emotional core of much of the show, second only to the relationships between the three sisters. The relatability of the Oh sisters, including their individual flaws, makes them captivating protagonists that are easy to root for, whether it be for their success or their character growth.
Beyond characterization and relationships, Little Women boasts stunning cinematography and striking music. The last minute of the first episode is especially gripping, with the visuals wielding an innovative use of depth and negative space to create an overwhelming feeling of isolation, the claustrophobic weight of responsibility, all while the music swells with a sense of relief and the tentative promise of salvation. These intense yet contradicting feelings perfectly embody the emotions that Oh In-Joo is enduring during those final seconds of episode one, played beautifully by her actress Kim Go-Eun. In truth, the acting in Little Women is A-class across the board, but Kim Go-Eun in particular brings a rawness to her character that will resonate with many viewers.
If Little Women sounds like an intriguing show that you, or perhaps for a friend or family member, may enjoy, its twelve episodes can be found on Netflix, with each episode ranging around an hour and fifteen minutes. The original Korean audio is available with English subtitles, but English and Spanish dubbed audio is also available.
For those interested, check out the trailer for Little Women here!
3/23/2023 02:46:29 pm
This sounds like a really interesting show! I am definitely going to add this to my watch list.
3/24/2023 10:36:19 pm
Sounds like another show is being added to my watchlist! Korean media has definitely been producing some great shows and talent so I'm excited to watch this. I also really appreciated the summaries of the characters, it was well done!
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Autumn Andersen is an editor for Penumbra Online and grad student at CSU Stanislaus. She enjoys reading, writing, and talking about her favorite shows.