If you had money what would you do? That’s the central question in Netflix’s latest Korean original, Little Women. If you’ve been hoping for a faithful adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel, this question will make you think again. In the history of the Little Woman adaptation—from the first lost film in 1917, to the Japanese anime of 1980 (yes, Little Woman anime is a thing), through Greta Gerwig’s 2019 edition—this iteration stands out.
Directed by Kim Hee-won (Vincenzo) and written by Jang Seo-kyung (The Handmaiden), Little Women follows the Oh sisters. Three women living in poverty of a different kind to their novel counterparts. The soft-spoken Marmi encourages her daughters to be kind and self-sacrificing, while their father serves as a pastor in the Civil War. He is replaced by a cruel, inept mother and an absent father who gambled away the family’s savings before fleeing to Singapore.
The first chapters of the book Little Women cement the charitable nature of the March family as they donate their Christmas dinner to a poor family. The first episode of Little Women the series, however, sees Oh In-joo, known as Kim Go-eun (Guardian: The Lonely and Great God) and her sister In-kyung, Nam Ji-hyun (365: Repeat the Year). performed by. Money for her younger sister In-hee — played by Park Ji-hoo, fresh from her breakout role in All Us Are Dead — so that she can take a school trip to Europe for her birthday. Only to steal his mother’s money and flee to Singapore himself.
Despite this tonal change, the similarities between the Oh and March sisters are clear from off. Like Meg, In-joo, who works as a bookkeeper for Orchid E&C, feels a responsibility to provide for her sisters in the absence of her parents. In-kyung, rather than an aspiring writer, is a journalist for OBN, who swirls tequila from a mouthwash bottle to avoid crying over sad stories. In-He is a reserved artist who, like Amy, is attending a prestigious art school on a scholarship.
Each of these roles leads the sisters into the same mystery. In-joo struggles to relate to the privileged women around her. Instead, he befriends Jin Hwa-young (Choo Jae-hyun), a woman from a similar background. When she finds Hwa-young dead in her flat – and 2 Billion addresses her in a locker – In-joo tries to find out what happened to her friend and she found illegal slush of orchids E&C. 70 billion won from the fund. A path that leads him to aspiring politician Park Jae-sung (Um Ki-joon), who investigates for In-kyung Obn; All the while In-high paints his daughter.
more like this
It’s a web of different narratives that, in the best tradition of Korean thrillers, are sure to converge as the story progresses.
In case it wasn’t clear by now, this isn’t just another adaptation of Little Woman. Netflix and TVN’s iteration omits themes of perseverance and self-sacrifice. Notable is the absence of an avatar for Beth (whose incompetence doesn’t fit into Korea’s old social customs). Similarly, Jo’s chasing coding against gender norms and their binary expectations as a woman is facing In-kyung in the workplace and dealing with a man with a foot fetish in In-joo. .
Instead, Little Woman transfers the core tenets of Alcott’s novel to a cynical, money-driven chore. All the better to fit the typical themes found in Korean thrillers: the divide between rich and poor, and the corruption of government and business (which is never quite as different as it should be).
This may sound like a betrayal of Alcott’s intentions, but it is the show’s biggest strength. One that Alcott may well have taken for granted. Alcott, who routinely rejected femininity (she once said, “I am more than half convinced that I am a man’s soul, put into a woman’s body by some freak of nature”) – Hate little women, and how it is supposed to become synonymous with “boyhood”.
She loved tales of adventure and free adventure — viewed, at the time, as “boys’ tales” — and one couldn’t help but think Alcott would love these representations of her characters. In-joo does not marry happily, but gets divorced from a swindler. In-kyung is not trying to preserve her family’s happy days of poverty, she is attempting to expose the corruption of a public figure. In-hee loves art, but she also sees it as a way to earn money and break away from her family.
It might be easier to create a piece of Korean era that directly echoes the original novel – and so Little Woman could join the plethora of average shows imported by Korea from the West. But turning every expectation of a Little Woman adaptation, Jang Seo-kyung has created something daring and far more fitting for the modern world.
With Kim Hee-won’s direction, which often hinges on sweeping scenes highlighting the disparity between the Oh sisters and the privileged ones around them, most of the scars we know as Little Women Have moved on to a show that bears more resemblance to the dark than the teen motifs of Netflix’s adaptation of The Stranger in the Light, Gerwig and Armstrong.
It is a show about suitably bitter women who, no matter how hard they try, cannot break the cycle of poverty they have been forced into. It’s a theme that fans of Parasite will recognize, and is a major part of the Korean thriller. It is in this that the show improves on previous iterations: it is relatable. The sacrifice is not intended as a glimpse into the poverty but as a window into the midst of the ongoing economic devastation in our own lives.
If you come to Little Women looking for an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s book, you’ll be disappointed. But stick around and you might start to recognize The Phantom of Alcott’s Little Woman before being swept into another tight, gritty Korean thriller that shows that not every adaptation needs to respect its source material. As an adaptation of Little Women, the show is a resounding failure—and that’s a good thing.
Little Women is now available to watch on Netflix.
You can also read our guide to the best Netflix series and best Netflix movies to keep yourself entertained, check out our Drama Hub for more news, interviews and features, or visit our TV guide to see more Huh.
The latest issue of Radio Times Magazine is on sale now – Subscribe now And get the next 12 points for just £1. To learn more about TV’s biggest stars, listen Radio Times Podcast With Jane Garvey.