Private Lives review: A family of con artists seeks to make their mark in the world of scams

·3-min read
Con artist family Kim Mi Sook (Song Seon Mi, left), Cha Joo Eun (Seohyun, middle) and Cha Hyun Tae (Kim Sung Geun) celebrate after a successful heist in Private Lives.
Con artist family Kim Mi Sook (Song Seon Mi, left), Cha Joo Eun (Seohyun, middle) and Cha Hyun Tae (Kim Sung Geun) celebrate after a successful heist in Private Lives.

By Bryan Tan

This review contains spoilers and covers episodes 1-2 of Private Lives, which is currently available on Netflix.

If you enjoy a good heist movie, Private Lives might just be the drama for you. The series follows the lives of incipient con artist Cha Joo Eun played by Seohyun – formerly from the all-girl idol group Girls’ Generation or SNSD – along with her father (Park Sung Geun) and mother (Song Seon Mi).

Private Lives definitely bears a resemblance to the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy of films, famously starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Even the ambient instrumental music pays tribute to the inimitable series, as we join the family in their shameless quest to separate as many unwitting people as possible from their hard-earned money.

As someone who greatly relishes made-up worlds and their ability to enable people to enjoy a sense of escapism, Private Lives does that pretty well. Viewers quickly learn that in the world of con artists, there are code words to live by. A set-up which requires time to plan and rehearse is termed ‘filming a documentary’, and if you refer to someone as a ‘school mate’, it means you guys were cellmates while serving time in prison.

Joo Eun’s father Cha Hyun Tae finds himself ‘filming a documentary’ with a larger and more resourceful con organisation, headed by the infamous swindler in the con circles, Jeong Bok Gi (Kim Hyo Jin) and her partner Kim Jae Wook (Kim Young Min). Hyun Tae finds himself fronting the ‘documentary’ as a charismatic Christian pastor, who goes around hawking the idea of building a mega-church to simple minded worshippers.

Despite his family’s misgivings, Hyun Tae finds himself buying into the idea that a mega-church with him as the head pastor is a lucrative long-term scam, and invests all their savings into the ‘project’. You can imagine what happens next. Instead of building a church with the funds, Bok Gi and partner take the proceeds and flee, leaving Hyun Tae to take the fall as the fraudulent pastor who swindled his congregants.

Apparently in the world of con artists, there is absolutely no honour among thieves. Joo Eun attempts to take revenge for her imprisoned father and tries to ‘film a documentary’ to retrieve the stolen funds from Bok Gi, only to be found out and sent to prison for a year. Upon her release, she finds herself falling for Lee Jeong Hwan (Go Kyung Pyo), a very dashing team leader at a large company.

Unfortunately, our protagonists are rather terrible con men and women, having fallen to con after con and not learning their lesson. Joo Eun is left at the altar; having to pay for a very expensive marriage after having been proposed to by Jeong Hwan, a very capable con artist himself, after half a year of dating. I could not help but have a massive face-palm moment at the cruel irony.

Will our rather naïve, protagonist con-family ever succeed at learning not to fall for scams? Things do eventually hint at a real romance behind Joo Eun and Jeong Hwan, the recipe for success in every romantic series. Find out in the next episodes, released weekly on Netflix every Wednesday and Thursday.

Other Private Lives recaps:

Private Lives episodes 3-4: Cha Joo Eun mopes over her scam marriage and chases after the missing Jeong Hwan