‘Hierarchy’ Netflix Review: Korean ‘Elite’ Has Nothing On Its Predecessors 


If you’re going into Hierarchy expecting a rush of emotions and a high-speed narrative that’ll keep you guessing, then I’ll tell you right off the bat: don’t bother watching it. The series, meant to be the Korean version of Elite, doesn’t even live up to older K-dramas that explore similar themes in a much more engaging manner. Hierarchy is plain boring, and there’s simply nothing that makes the ending worth the 7-episode wait. Hierarchy tells the story of a 17-year-old boy named Kang-Ha, who is a new scholarship student at an elite school in South Korea, obviously considered the best school there; however, there’s a morbid motive behind Kang-Ha’s presence at the school—revenge. Now, when you hear this premise, you’re thinking, I’ve already seen a dozen shows like this, or that this sounds rather interesting despite it being a premise I’ve seen many times before. However, this isn’t enough reason to waste your time on Hierarchy. I promise you, in my 8+ years of K-drama watching, I’ve seen bad high-school shows that are far better than this one. 

What’s unfortunate is that the cast of Hierarchy is a talented young bunch that could be Korea’s next big names, but with a lackluster script, there’s only so much they can do. They’ve all been in great shows recently and don’t really get to show their true potential in this one. To me, the biggest disappointment is the role given to actor Lee Won-Jung, who was an absolute delight in My Perfect Stranger. For the other main roles, Roh Jeong-Eui barely has anything to do but cry. Lee Chae-Min has got to have the worst lead role in high school K-drama history, and Kim Jae-Won is a confusing Kim Ri-An, because is he actually a kind-hearted guy? Or is he going to turn out to be an elitist piece of garbage? Ji Hye-Won might’ve given the best performance in the show simply because she just has more to do than the other characters. But her hair keeps changing every 5 minutes in each episode, and it’s really distracting. Byeon Seo-Yoon as Han Ji-Soo looks so youthful that I’d easily have confused her as one of the kids. It’s quite terrifying to see Sky Castle’s Choi Won-Young as a terrible parent, but we get what we get. And what do you know? He isn’t the only cast member from the series; we’ve also got Yoon Se-Ah, who plays Ri-An’s tyrant mother. 

I actually haven’t seen the original Spanish show, but I did get to catch the Indian remake Class, which definitely felt much more high-stakes and devoted to the cliches unlike Hierarchy. It’s almost as if they were afraid to commit to making the rich look bad. Hierarchy instead thrives on cliches and focuses on a central love triangle that doesn’t even feel real. Often times, within the series, you tend to forget what the real matter at hand is—the murder. The K-drama doesn’t manage to deliver any kind of punch in terms of the messaging it’s so desperately trying to hide under a facade of fanciful opulence. But my biggest qualm with the series is the revelation at the end and what it implies about the rich and those trying to climb the ladder. Is it just me, or has the K-drama industry lost its footing in the rich kid dramas? I’m reminded of the recently failed The Impossible Heir.

It’s true that most K-drama watchers, or rather, most people who go by stereotypes, would know the importance of academia in a rich Korean household. So I suppose with that liberty in mind, Hierarchy doesn’t bother giving us any actual content revolving around the students and their academic lifestyles. It’s mainly about how they have all the facilities in the world and can do anything with their lives and get away with it. This is true for sure; however, it really takes you out of the series, like this is one ridiculous thing after another, and I’d say I’m a fan of “makjang” dramas, so it’s not like this is something new to me, but it just doesn’t work in this case. 

Hierarchy is cliche after cliche and feels like a big waste of time. It’s not even a slow burn; it’s an outright bore with no motivation. I am glad the show kept itself to 7 episodes because any more and I would’ve turned it off even if I’d been 70% through (of course, for the job, I’d have to have finished it, but you know what I mean?). Even the characters are worth rooting for because everyone’s got their demons. Visually, the show attempts to do a lot within its 7 episodes and occasionally feels like an experiment in filmmaking. I mean, there are certain scenes that look really wacky, and I don’t know who approved of them. Like a scene where what’s happening on the girl’s phone plays out on the floor behind her for us to see. Why are we seeing screenings on the floor? I don’t understand. Sure, these are small details that can be forgotten and ignored if a show happens to be any good, but with Hierarchy, my mind quickly zoomed in on the details that made it even worse. 

Maybe I’ve become immune to the dark side of Korean academia, or maybe Hierarchy is just a bad piece of media. Either way, I’d say don’t bother wasting your time on this series, and instead, if you want some good high-school K-dramas with good plots but similar dark themes, go for the “School” series or everyone’s favorite, Sky Castle, which gives a nuanced look at the rich and tells the story from the point of view of the parents rather than the children alone. At the end of the day, Hierarchy is lost in trying to do a lot at once. The pacing is off after 3 episodes, and it tries to fit in most of the impactful stuff in the last episode, at which point you stop caring about what’s coming. So, I’d give Hierarchy 2 out of 5 stars, specifically for the nice outfits and the cast. 

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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
When not tending to her fashion small business, Ruchika or Ru spends the rest of her time enjoying some cinema and TV all by herself. She's got a penchant for all things Korean and lives in drama world for the most part.

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