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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘The Good Bad Mother’ On Netflix, A Korean Dramedy About A Domineering Mother

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The Good Bad Mother

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The new Netflix series The Good Bad Mother defies genre: at times it’s a comedy, sometimes it’s a drama, occasionally it’s a tear-jerker, and it’s also a show about pigs. (The main characters are pig farmers, if you need me to make it make sense.) At it’s heart, it’s a story about a mother who goes too far in order to give her son a good life, and from what we’ve seen so far, it’s a fascinating story.


Opening Shot: A cute little pink pig wanders through a home, then a yard, then a town.

The Gist: It’s 1988 in South Korea. Young-soon (Ra Mi-ran) is a young woman working in an animal feed store, and one day one of the store’s customers, Hae-sik (Cho Jin-woong), comes in and proposes to her. The proposal is not without its glitches though. Hae-sik is a pig farmer, and he had strapped the engagement ring to the neck of a piglet, who runs away as he’s proposing. Young-soon and Hae-sik chase the pig through town, finally snatching it, and she accepts his proposal. A short time later, they’re living on their pig farm and Young-soon is pregnant.

The leader of their village explains that since the Seoul Olympics will be televised and the torch will be passed through their town, they’ll appear on TV, which sounds great, a wonderful sign of progress and patriotism for everyone in town. But soon, a group of thuggish workers from a local construction site come to the farm and explain that they’re going to need to tear it down; it’s an eyesore and will be the laughing stock of the country if a dirty pig farm is broadcast on TV. When Hae-sik refuses and challenges the thugs, their leader, Song Woo-byeok, apologizes and leaves peacefully, but he comes back later and burns the whole farm down with the pigs inside. A trial ensues, but there’s not enough evidence to prove arson, with witnesses recanting their stories. Hae-sik learns that his neighbors were shaken down by Song, and he tells his lawyer, Prosecutor Oh, he wants to file an appeal. He doesn’t realize Oh secretly works for Song, so Oh tells Song that Hae-sik is still a problem. Song kills Hae-sik and stages it to look like he hung himself.

Okay, now that we’ve established what happens in a very dense first 20 minutes of the show, I’ll explain that Hae-sik’s wife, Young-soon, who is still pregnant, and caring for the one pig, also pregnant, who survived the arson, takes what little money she has and vows to care for her unborn child and not let him live a life of poverty the way she and her husband had. She spruces up her new farm and is very reluctantly welcomed by the other villagers who don’t want a dirty pig farm near them, but they take a liking to her. The day she gives birth to her son, Kang-ho (played as an adult by Lee Do-hyun), another girl is born in the village, Mi-joo, and the pair grow up together, eventually becoming boyfriend and girlfriend in high school.

Though she’s loving, Young-soon is a domineering mother who only allows Kang-ho to focus on school work so he can become a lawyer and live a better life than the one she can give him. He’s not allowed to have fun or attend school functions, and when he has to fill out a form explaining why he won’t be attending a school trip, his answer is, “Bad Mom.”

On the day of his college entrance exams, a moment Kang-ho has studied his entire life for, Mi-joo is struck by a motorbike and Kang-ho skips the exam to bring her to the hospital. Young-soon is not understanding, and they argue, she tells him he’s weak for missing the exam. Kang-ho tells his mother that he has never had his own life, and he even suggests that this better future that she has in store for him is simply just her wish for him to become just like the rich, powerful, thuggish bullies who killed his father.

The show skips ahead a few years (presumably to the present day) and Kang-ho is indeed a powerful prosecutor who is trying a case against the same construction company whose CEO, Song Woo-byeok, killed his father. But in the final moments, we learn that Kang is actually a corrupt lawyer himself, and he’s now working for the bad guys.

Photo: Netflix

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The Good Bad Mother is an epic saga; so much happens in one single episode, and the tone is wildly all over the place, from slapstick humor to tragic devastation, it’s truly unlike anything I’ve seen.

Our Take: The Good Bad Mother established its world straight out of the gate. This is a story of rich and poor, good and bad, and what it takes to be in power, and I mean that in both a professional and financial sense, and within the dynamics of a family.

As the sole provider for her child, Young-soon took her power to a cruel level, forcing him to sacrifice his childhood so that he could become her definition of successful. And ultimately, she got her wish; he is successful, but he’s on the wrong team and he’s corrupt and cruel himself, working for the most powerful but immoral man in the land.

That would truly be enough of a story to keep most people interested, but there’s also an underlying pig metaphor (stay with me) that creeps in throughout the show and adds a fascinating layer to the whole thing. Young-soon, a pig farmer, explains in the opening moments of the show that pigs are actually a clean, intelligent animal, but years of being raised by humans in poop-filled pigpens have bred them to be seen as unclean and aggressive, when really, they’re just misunderstood. She is constantly rejected by her neighbors, she struggles to get by, and she too is misunderstood. It makes sense that she wouldn’t wish that life on her child. But like a good soap opera or telenovela, we’ve barely even scratched the surface of what this show is really about, there are plotlines that haven’t even been hinted at yet. We do know (from the show’s log-line) that Kang-ho is eventually going to be involved in a brain-injuring accident that will land him in his mother’s care again, and that only deepens my curiosity about how the pig metaphor is going to play out.

Sex and Skin: None.

Parting Shot: Kang-ho bows before the man who took his father’s life, as he is now part of his criminal empire.

Sleeper Star: She’s never officially named in the show, but this woman who lives in Young-soon’s village seems to only offer unhelpful advice and is never seen without wearing her sheet mask, and she is my favorite character on any show right now.

Photo: Netflix

Most Pilot-y Line: “I won’t let this child live like us,” Young-soon says before she’s given birth, though we don’t yet know how far she’ll go to make that a reality.

Our Call: STREAM IT! Though only one episode of The Good Bad Mother has been released on Netflix (there will be two episodes premiering weekly), the first episode has laid out several fascinating relationships. It would be intriguing enough if the story was just about a young, ruthless lawyer who shuns his own mother in order to go work for the man who killed his father, but the main event of the series – an accident that leaves Kang-ho mentally impaired – hasn’t even happened yet. There’s no telling where this show will go, but based on the storytelling we’ve seen so far, I have high hopes.

Liz Kocan is a pop culture writer living in Massachusetts. Her biggest claim to fame is the time she won on the game show Chain Reaction.