This week kicked off several new shows, and I’m still catching up. I’ve barely started watching two of the new Wednesday-Thursday dramas, MBC’s Merry vs. Dae Gu Battle (메리리 대구 공방전) (replacing “Thank You”) and SBS’s War of Money (쩐의 전쟁) (replacing “Witch Amusement”). I may or may not have more to say on them later, but a different show caught my eye — the show that seemed to premiere rather quietly on Monday, KBS’s Flowers For My Life (꽃찾으러 왔단다), which I loved.
Eccentrically funny and offbeat, this series is literally translated “I Came In Search of Flowers” but its official English-language title designated by KBS is “Flowers For My Life.” (I can only think it’s a positive sign that kdramas are becoming popular enough that more and more are coming with an English-translated title ready in advance. It saves us overseas fans the trouble of awkward and inconsistently applied names, that’s for sure.)
SONG OF THE DAY
Crosby Stills & Nash – “Prison Song”: Used in one of the last scenes, it sets a nice mood for the quirkiness of the series. [ Download ]
Director Ji Young Soo :: Drama City, Oh Pil Seung Bong Soon Young, Hello God
Writer Yoon Sung Hee :: Magic, Shooting for the Stars, We’re Dating Now, Beautiful Days
Production :: HB Entertainment
Official website: http://www.kbs.co.kr/drama/flower/main.html
Cha Tae Hyun / 차태현 :: Sad Movie, Prince’s First Love, Blue Alert, My Sassy Girl
Kang Hye Jung / 강혜정 :: Welcome to Dongmakgol, Herb, Love Phobia
Gong Hyun Joo / 공현주 :: Wedding, All In
Kim Ji Hoon / 김지훈 :: Great Inheritance
Start Date: May 14, 2007 (Wednesday)
I tuned into this series mainly out of curiosity — I don’t know much about the cast aside from Cha Tae Hyun (from My Sassy Girl) and wasn’t a particular follower of his projects — but I knew in the first ten minutes that I’d like this series. Centering around a girl who’s grown up with her parents’ business of a funeral home, there’s a morbid humor to this drama, but it’s not disturbing or depressing. It’s quirky. Understated. The drama has taken a leaf from the pages of other stunningly well-done creations such as Six Feet Under and Dead Like Me, both of which share the same offbeat sense of humor. I wasn’t expecting a Korean drama to be able to pull off that kind of comic touch, but it does. At least so far.
Furthermore, the directing and cinematography are excellent. It’s not flashy for the sake of flashy, but uses interesting shots, angles, and clever ways to frame scenes. It adds to the tone of the show, without letting its style get in the way. I remarked about a recent favorite kdrama series Que Sera Sera that it felt like an indie film more than a television production, because it was more realistic and gritty. QSS didn’t, however, necessarily look pretty much of the time. Well, Flowers For My Life feels like an indie film but one that strives more for heightened reality, or perhaps surreality — and it IS pretty. The lighting is gorgeous and complements the story very well. I’m really impressed with the overall look of this show. I hope it continues in this vein.
EPISODE 1 SUMMARY
Na Hana (Kang Hye Jung) is kind of an odd duck. Since she was very young, she’s loved the smell of money, and worked hard to scrape up cash here and there, safely kept in her jar of treasures. Or perhaps we should call it an urn of treasures, since she’s the daughter of the proprietors of a funeral home. Growing up surrounded by death, Hana neither fears death nor finds it disturbing.
As a young girl, she used to charge neighborhood kids money to look upon the dead in curiosity. Although they’d most often freak out, Hana has never thought the dead were frightening.
She tells us, matter-of-factly, “I like dead people. Thanks to them, my parents make money, and I make money.” It also gives her a very peculiar, deadpan attitude about everything. Nothing seems to get Hana upset, and she’s definitely a little weird — other kids always find her scary. When her high school teacher makes her tearful farewell to take care of her sick husband in his few remaining days, the rest of the class weeps at the loss of their teacher. However, Hana, completely unperturbed, merely asks her teacher to please make sure to use her family’s funeral service when her husband dies. HA! It’s great.
With Hana’s extreme love of money, nothing comes as a bigger blow — not a death, that’s for sure — than hearing that her savings fund is lost and irretrievable. With that, Hana buries her remaining urn of treasures and decides there’s nothing left for her in her hometown. She’ll go in search of bigger fortunes in the big city.
To give you an idea of the offbeat feel of this show, as Hana leaves her home in the middle of the night, she runs into her mother, who’s sleeping in a coffin in the front yard, and doesn’t even bat an eyelash. Hana’s mother appears to be irresponsible and somewhat flighty (in contrast to her sensible, if a bit hot-tempered father), and is using her time in the coffin to “reflect upon” whatever mistakes she’s committed that day. Hana takes off as her father chases and yells empty threats her way.
And she arrives in the city, ready to begin her new life. She breathes in and says, “Seoul, I have arrived!”
She finds a job working at a hospital morgue, although at her initial interview, the employee attempts to turn her away. He says many people have taken on the job because of the good pay, but cannot stomach the actual job. He asks her if she’s ever seen a dead body — not just a grandma at a funeral, but a serious, hardcore dead body. They’re not pretty.
Hana answers: “I know that. If a body falls from a high place, the head cracks open. In that case, the brain splatters out. I’ve seen how to put that brain matter back inside the head cavity, and I’ve also seen a body put back together after being completely mangled in an auto accident. And once, there was this guy who was sick for a very long time, and he had abdominal dropsy, so there was a lot of—“
And that’s quite enough to ensure that she gets the job.
Many of the corpses belong to (formerly) rich people. One day, she speaks to a particularly rich, particularly young, particularly good-looking corpse, saying it’s a shame she didn’t meet him before he died. She could’ve made his life pleasant before he went, and he could’ve left her all his money in gratitude. She imagines the lovely scenario…
The dead guy stirs — as though he’s alive — and speaks to Hana. But she talks right back at him, because (1) she’s weird and not at all disturbed at the idea of talking to dead people, and (2) it’s her imagination. Cute Dead Guy tells her to find another guy like him, then. She says those people aren’t easy to find — young, rich, and destined to live a short life (the better to leave her all that money for!). Cute Dead Guy tells her they’re around, if she thinks about it.
So Hana thinks about it, and figures out one such option — nursing the terminally ill! (It’s so wrong, but I love it.) If she can become a nurse in a hospice, she can befriend her dying patient and live out her dream scenario! It’s brilliant!
With that goal in mind, Hana goes to school and studies — although her first patient can see right through her ploy and accuses her (rightfully so) of being a money-grubber.
Hana’s nonplussed at being found out, and ruminates over her situation over lunch — eating cup ramen in the morgue. Furthermore, she keeps her kimchee in an empty morgue slab like it’s a refrigerator! I love her. (Hana doesn’t try to be lovable — the character is quite deadpan and stoic, but it’s that very quality that endears her to me. She doesn’t try to make me like her — she really couldn’t give a damn — so I do.)
Into this situation, Yoon Ho Sang (Cha Tae Hyun) rushes in, and we jump over to his story….
Ho Sang is a perennial fuck-up, always living for today at the expense of tomorrow. He’s once again screwed things up for his family, losing tons of money in a drunken incident, and now finds himself chased by debt collectors. His aggrieved mother kicks him out.
One day, his job as a messenger for an errand service sends him to the home of a strange rich man. The paranoid stranger tells Ho Sang to change clothes with him, quick! Ho Sang has no idea why, but the strange man shoves a wad of bills in his hand (looks like around a thousand bucks) and asks if that’s enough for him to change clothes without asking any more questions.
Ho Sang thinks for a split second before he figures it’s easy money, and complies. He ends up at a fancy room in a hospital, and the guy (named Wang Dae Bak, or literally “jackpot”) tells hiim to stay there until he comes back to get him. If he does that successfully, he’ll get double the payday. But he’s got to make sure not to show his face around.
At first, it’s the easy life as Ho Sang undergoes a battery of physical exams and watches lots of cable television. But he happens to run into his debt collector in the bathroom as he’s attempting to “fill his cup.” Ho Sang runs away, seeking refuge in an empty room — the morgue — where he runs into Hana. And here, our two stories converge…
Unfortunately, Hana doesn’t care about Ho Sang’s special “situation” and kicks him out, right into the path of Mr. Debt Collector. Thinking quickly, Ho Sang tells the guy (whom he calls “hyungnim,” which might just be a term of respect but could also point to the guy’s possible gangster ties) that he’s going to come into money soon — he’s got a large life insurance policy. And he’s dying. He’d wanted to leave the fund to his family, but he supposes Hyungnim can be the beneficiary. The guy wants proof, so Ho Sang assures him the nurse can confirm his claim.
Unfortunately, the nurses all have a sense of ethics, and refuse. Hana also flatly refuses Ho Sang’s begging… until he offers her money for her cooperation.
Meanwhile, Mr. Wang is still running away from his mystery chaser. Unfortunately, he chooses a bad hiding spot, and is crushed and buried in the rubble of a collapsed building. Uh oh.
Hana spins a wonderfully complex explanation of Ho Sang’s cancer — he’s beyond hope, and recovery and surgery are both impossible. If he’s lucky, he’ll have a year to live. She’s very convincing…
But they’re found out by Uptight Nurse, who’s incensed and offended. She scolds Hana, and Ho Sang’s back in trouble…
Ho Sang sweet-talks the Hyungnim, saying he’s misunderstood the situation. He really is dying. This time, he’ll get a doctor to confirm the details. Ho Sang sneaks a phone call to the doctor and leaves a message, begging the doctor to save him and go along with his story.
When the doctor arrives, Ho Sang accepts his grave fate (it’s cancer, and it’s bad, though not incurable) with surprising equanimity — not knowing that the doctor DIDN’T GET HIS MESSAGE. Ho Sang really does have cancer, only he doesn’t know it.
So he’s relieved and elated, and happily offers Hana her money in gratitude for going along with his plan. Even though they were caught, it’s only fair that he pay her for agreeing in the first place. Hana accepts happily, but is caught by her superiors. And fired.
Ho Sang wants to celebrate his great day and runs into Hana on her way out, not knowing she was fired because of him. When she invites him to talk, he happily goes along, and wonders if maybe she’s even trying to seduce him.
Thinking that she’s surprisingly (but oh so delightfully) kinky, Ho Sang happily climbs on top of the slab, only to find himself locked angrily in. Hana demands he “reflect upon” his wrongs for a long while, before she finally lets him out.
The two part in a huff, glad to get away from the other, although Ho Sang’s voiceover hints at the future in a nice, melancholy way: “We didn’t know then, how happily we would come to remember that night…”
Ho Sang goes back home and is shocked to see a funeral notice. Alarmed that it might be his mother, he rushes to the funeral…
Only to find that IT’S HIS.
Apparently Mr. Wang died while wearing the uniform he’d exchanged with Ho Sang… so everyone thought Ho Sang died. And just to break the solemn mood with some hilarity, while Ho Sang’s relative (uncle? brother?) gives a heartbroken eulogy (a horribly inaccurate one, praising cowardly and troublemaking Ho Sang as brave and honorable), the little boy on stage next to him yawns boredly all throughout.
In a daze, Ho Sang processes this news. He thinks with a mix of relief and sadness that “Ho Sang” really is dead. He goes to pay his respects to Mr. Wang, surprised to find the door open, and steps inside the spacious mansion to find that Mr. Wang has no friends or family searching for him, and that he’s got a huge stash of cash in a briefcase, with a video camera and note saying, “Watch this.”
The video is Mr. Wang’s confession to his dear friend whom he’d wronged. While his friend was locked away (it seems to be for a small crime), his friend begged him to buy him lottery tickets. Mr. Wang thought it was a silly idea, but did so anyway — and when one of the tickets won, his greed got the better of him. Instead of handing over the winnings to his friend, Mr. Wang ran away, cut off contact with everyone, and became a paranoid recluse. A few days ago, he saw his friend in the neighborhood, which is why he begged Ho Sang to switch clothes with him to throw off the scent. Mr. Wang apologizes and asks for forgiveness.
But rather than take the riches and run (which is what I’D do!), Ho Sang settles back into moody introspection, thinking:
“Why did I have the thought that I was like you? You were a bad guy who abused his friend’s fortune, and I’m a foolish guy who’s never had any. You must’ve been very lonely. Like I am now.”
At the hospital, Hana hears that Ho Sang is suffering from cancer, shocked because she knows that Ho Sang was faking — or thought he was faking. But because she’s a cold, greedy person who only thinks of money, she doesn’t feel sorry for Ho Sang — rather, she feels bummed that she missed her chance! A young, rich, terminally ill guy was right in her grasp and she let him go! She sneaks into his file to get his contact information, and is nearly caught by Uptight Nurse…
…but she instead takes off, thinking, “Today is the first day of my new life. I’ll find that guy and make my dream come true. Wait and see, I’m taking off!”