Ohhhhh, what a freaking great way to go out!
I was afraid the ending wouldn’t live up to the series, especially with all the snippets of spoilers floating around… but I loved it. I can see why some might have wanted something different, but I thought it was quite fitting.
SONG OF THE DAY
8eight – “자유” (Freedom). I had a beautiful sad song picked out for the finale, but then I saw the episode and it didn’t seem to fit. [ Download ]
EPISODE 20 RECAP
Shin runs out of the hospital in time to see the ambulance peeling away, and jumps inside it. Do-woo swerves sharply to knock Shin out, but Shin’s concern is solely for Eun-soo’s welfare, and he pleads with Do-woo to slow down for her sake.
Do-woo asks for Shin’s phone and, desperate to agree, Shin hands it over. Do-woo tosses it out the window and agrees to allow Shin to free the doctor of his bindings to help Eun-soo.
In the hospital parking lot, doctors and police officers rush to find Kyung-tae on the ground, and start transporting him inside for medical attention. Kyung-tae urgently looks at his fallen headphones as he tries to signal to Detective Kim to bring them to him, because of his quirk of needing them in order to talk. But ultimately this is too important, so he forces himself to speak anyway. He knows the ambulance number, and tells the detective. The police scour the area, knowing they’re on the right track when they recover Shin’s thrown-away phone.
While Do-woo drives, the doctor works on keeping Eun-soo alive in the back — but finally, she flatlines. Shin takes in the shock of the moment, but it seems like Do-woo doesn’t even register it, or is so fixated on his own goal that he doesn’t care. Shin urges Do-woo to tell the doctor to stop trying to resuscitate Eun-soo, because without his consent, he has to keep trying.
Shin’s words fall on deaf ears, and Do-woo answers as though in a trance, “I have to make it to the airport. The plane is waiting.” Shin pleads with Do-woo to let Eun-soo go peaceably, and finally Do-woo relents. The doctor calls the time of death.
Shin holds Eun-soo’s hand and mourns her passing, crying silently. (Is this interesting, or not? — the song that plays used to be Shin and Kyung-ah’s theme, the sad one that goes, “Goodbye, my love.”)
He starts to pull the blanket over her head, but stops, wracked with tears. He can’t do it.
Do-woo sits in a dull daze and imagines Eun-soo appearing beside the car to speak to him, healthy and whole.
A little bit later, they sit side by side on the beach (or rather, Do-woo sits on the beach and imagines that Eun-soo is beside him).
Do-woo: “Sometimes I wish that if I’ve come this far, I might as well go completely insane. Eun-soo, do you ever think that?”
Eun-soo: “What is it to go entirely crazy?”
Do-woo: “When I don’t know myself, what I’m doing, where I am, or who I am.”
Eun-soo: “Then you wouldn’t know me, either.”
Do-woo: “You think so?”
Eun-soo: “That’s no good.”
Do-woo: “You’re right.”
Eun-soo: “Can I ask you something?”
Do-woo: “What is it?”
Eun-soo: “Have you still never cried?”
The answer to that would be no. Although we know Eun-soo’s death must be a huge blow to Do-woo, it’s almost like the shock broke Do-woo somehow, because he sits in silence and remains unresponsive when Shin addresses him, saying he ought to say his goodbyes to Eun-soo.
Shin can’t understand Do-woo, and asks in angry disbelief: “I know you’re crazy, but what the hell were you thinking? Did you simply hate having us next to her? Then you should have just said that.”
Do-woo answers simply, “I could have saved her. That’s something you couldn’t do, not on this earth. Because you can’t do that, I could take her away, not here but somewhere else.”
Shin grabs him. “Do you still not get it? Your method was wrong. You couldn’t have saved her that way. Look at what you’ve done. I know what’s wrong and what’s right. Why don’t you know? You’re smarter than I am. You spent lots of money to be educated — so why don’t you know?!”
Do-woo’s stoic through all this. He reiterates his mantra: “I’m not wrong. Don’t tell me I’m wrong.”
Disgusted, Shin lets go of him and gets up. He tells him, “Get up. Tell your sister you were wrong, and say goodbye.” Do-woo remains sitting, closing his eyes and leaning back in his blank, languid way.
And then… we skip ahead a little while.
Some time has passed, but not too much, since Kyung-tae is still in the hospital. He’s fine, and happy, as Jae-myung fills in a now-free Mun-ho. Shin’s sister-in-law has returned to Myungdoshi and re-opened her snack shop, and bought a new home with the money from the displacement payout. As for Shin — well, he’s been out of sight after briefly dropping by Kyung-tae’s hospital room.
Mun-ho sighs over Eun-soo’s death, and guesses that Shin had liked her, but wonders if it had been love. I like Jae-myung’s response; even though he doesn’t quite get it, he respects that which he does not understand:
Jae-myung: “You haven’t had a lifelong love, have you? Me neither. So we should just keep our mouths shut.”
Mun-ho, laughing: “You’ve really grown up.”
Kyung-ah opens Do-woo’s secret panel, and starts to take down all the additional drawings he had added to the collage bit by bit. When the extraneous matter has been pulled away, Kyung-ah steps back and regards the main image, the drawing of a lush and extravagant Neo-Monaco. It’s a symbolic gesture — decluttering the main drawing and leaving it in its original pristine state — and its meaning will become clear in the following scene with Shin.
She meets Shin at a pojangmacha that night, where they start out with small pleasantries and she thanks him for helping with Eun-soo’s funeral, as nobody else was around to help her. Chairman Chae still hasn’t come to terms with Eun-soo’s death, and Do-woo — well, we’ll get to him in a moment.
Kyung-ah is now the CFO of the Myungdo New Deal project and chief Chae Dong stockholder. She describes the shadowy, powerful people who want to take over the Myungdoshi project, who have already recruited Mayor Oh to their side. She, on the other hand, wants to preserve Do-woo’s original dream.
Shin doesn’t want to help her (“Rich people asking for help scare me”) and wonders why she would come to him when she’s so prominent herself and he’s a nobody. Kyung-ah answers that Shin has learned how to fight: “I may not be a good judge of character, but I know which line to stand in.”
Shin: “Let me ask one more thing. How are those lofty people any different from you?”
Kyung-ah: “I know to fear you. They don’t know you. Find a way to work together with your people and Do-woo’s dream. I’ll help you. I misspoke to you at the start. Rather than asking for you to help me, I’ll help you.”
Thankfully, Kyung-tae is healthy and well, recovering from his stab wound in the hospital. Shin jokes that Kyung-tae might not ever want to check out of the hospital, seeing how the nurses fuss over him. Kyung-tae smiles, “It’s okay with me if I don’t.”
Kyung-tae can’t resume his broadcast as Mazinger Hunter yet, but he’s resumed writing online. Shin wonders if Kyung-tae will be okay, knowing that he could always be arrested for it. Kyung-tae replies, “The first time was scary, the second time was okay. The third time, I will laugh.”
Shin discusses Kyung-ah’s request for help with Kyung-tae, and how he turned it down. It’s painful for him here, near Myungdoshi, because the memory of Eun-soo is everywhere. Kyung-tae replies, “But the eggs are also here.” Shin wonders, “Eggs?”
Kyung-tae explains, “Eun-soo said this: ‘I think those people are eggs. Kim Shin once said that he was looking for a million eggs.’”
Shin is startled: “She said that?”
And now, finally, we come to Do-woo.
Now incarcerated, Do-woo is strikingly different from how we last saw him. He’s nervous, jittery, legs shaking uncontrollably and all trace of his former cool composure vanished. He is visited by a psychiatrist who is trying to understand his illness, asking questions that Do-woo answers in a stuttering, little-boy voice. It’s as though Eun-soo’s death has broken him, and he has reverted to a childlike state. He’s fixated on the memory of a sketchbook his mother had once bought him, which his father took from him.
The doctor asks why he would do that, and Do-woo answers, in a plaintive voice, “Because I drew pictures.” The doctor asks why his father hates him drawing pictures, and Do-woo just repeats, “My father lied. He lied.”
The doctor shows him a photo of himself, dressed as the Do-woo we know — sleek, sophisticated, accompanied by K. Do-woo shows no recognition of that man. When the doctor presents a family photo dating to his childhood, he recognizes everyone in the picture, identifying his father last, with some hesitation.
But when the doctor shows a photo of the adult Eun-soo, suddenly Do-woo lunges at the questioner, snarling and violent.
The doctor goes over his findings with Detective Kim, and has diagnosed Do-woo with dissociative, multiple personality disorder. One of his personas hasn’t aged past 12, probably marked by a trauma suffered at that age. Another persona is a wild man who cannot speak and acts purely on instinct. The separate personas don’t remember the thoughts of the others, although they share the same body.
The Chae Do-woo we know hasn’t yet appeared to the doctor, who says that more study will have to be conducted to confirm that Do-woo’s personality (the one we know) is his real one. This is problematic for Detective Kim, whose investigation remains in limbo while they are unable to “locate” the real Do-woo or speak with him.
If this drags on, the chances for putting Do-woo away for his crimes diminishes, and the detective therefore goes to Shin. She asks him to visit Do-woo, hoping that their peculiar connection might draw out his real self.
Shin talks to Do-woo normally, ignoring Do-woo’s sad, downturned gaze or his slumped posture. He starts by saying Eun-soo’s funeral went well, then brings up Kyung-ah’s comment that they were fighting the same enemy, so at one time they could have joined on the same team. However, Shin disagrees, saying Kyung-ah didn’t know Do-woo well enough: “Have you ever seen a man be on the same side as the pig he raised to eat?”
Kyung-ah wants to preserve Do-woo’s dream, and proposed that Shin help her do that while also protecting his own side. But Shin says, “I’m going to protect my people, because if we don’t watch over each other, we’ll get eaten up by your people.”
All the while, Do-woo’s attention has been flitting around the room, looking around randomly, and now he opens his mouth to speak, but doesn’t. Shin gets up to lean over Do-woo, and tells him to talk. Do-woo starts to… and says, “I want to draw. The ajusshis don’t let me draw.”
Shin is unmoved, and throws some of Do-woo’s words back at him: “Chae Do-woo. I know you’re in there. You’re afraid because you’re alone. If you’re afraid, come to us, we’ll take you. But when you come, come alone and kneel before me.”
Shin walks out, leaving Do-woo rocking back and forth in his chair, uncomprehending.
I’d say that it’s easy to feel sorry for the pathetic mess that Do-woo has been reduced to, even in light of all his horrible acts. But Shin has no such sympathy, and doesn’t quite buy that Do-woo is as damaged as he appears — or, at least, he doesn’t let him off the hook for it.
Mayoral elections. Mayor Oh is the clear front-runner as the incumbent, and his campaign is showy and self-aggrandizing. He has money and supporters, and everywhere he goes, he is trailed by yes men who clap enthusiastically for him and draw in passersby. He also promises big things, such as a fancy supermarket in place of the old marketplaces, and vows, “I will end your sufferings!”
In stark, pathetic contrast, candidate number 4 is Kim Jung-jin — the former mayor’s old aide. He speaks quietly but sincerely, and commands no followers or crowds. His campaign refrain, asked haltingly to the emptiness around him, is “Are you happy?”
It’s really quite sad, because it seems inevitable that the flashy but insincere Mayor Oh is likely to bulldoze over the quiet but honest Kim Jung-jin. And Kim is not unaware of this, as he explains to the crowd when Shin comes by.
At one of his rallies (although can it be a rally without an audience?), Kim stands with one assistant, speaking to uninterested passersby, when Shin seats himself at the perimeter and asks with a smile, “Why do you want to be mayor?” As he engages Kim in questions, people start to pause and listen to the dialogue between them.
Shin wonders, does a mayor make a lot of money? Kim answers no, that he’d used up his savings to run, causing his wife to become angry with him when it’s obvious he’ll lose. His family and friends all tried to stop him.
Shin: “But you wanted to be a mayor that badly?”
Kim: “No, not at all. I know what it means to be mayor. Our mayor has passed away now, but I observed under him. I was his assistant. I know that being mayor is working on behalf of the residents, enduring people’s curses. Because I know, I am running. I know how to endure curses.”
Shin: “That’s good. You know how to endure curses, I know how to fight. We can work together.”
Shin addresses the slowly growing crowd, “Everyone, this is candidate Kim Jung-jin. He knows constitutional law. Please vote for him.” (The constitutional law comment is a throwback to the mayor, who stood up to Do-woo and recited the constitution to protect his people.)
Now, Kim addresses the crowd more loudly, voice booming with energy.
Kim’s campaign is small, located in a cramped storefront, but it has picked up steam as the elections near. Kim explains his plan to build rental apartments for the people, the public health center, and the school. He also has plans for a park, and land where the farming venture group can move in nearby.
Shin assists, and even Bum-hwan wants to help. Unfortunately, Shin reminds his hyungnim why this would be a Very Bad Idea, because the campaign can’t accept money, and having Bum-hwan’s boys loitering around would look suspicious. Furthermore, Bum-hwan can’t even vote in Myungdoshi.
Bum-hwan is also here to offer a bit of advice. Someone had found out he’d been cheated (out of the building contract) by Kyung-ah, and came to him with information. Kyung-ah is in possession of something important, but no identifying information was given.
With Do-woo out of the picture, Chairman Chae and Kyung-ah are off to recover Chae Dong Construction officially (becoming primary stockholders). The chairman is only half-lucid, like he’s gone half-senile in some perverse twist of fate that made true Do-woo’s earlier lies that his father was heading into early dementia. Chae retains his gruff, proud way of speaking (telling Kyung-ah she’s got a lot to learn from him), but also sometimes reverts to childlike babble. Like father, like son?
Chae also calls out for Eun-soo, not believing or knowing she has died. When Kyung-ah steps out of the room, he fumbles for his hat, and collapses in the attempt.
He doesn’t die — he is rushed to the hospital — but he is now bedridden. (His hand flickers, possibly indicating mental awareness, but he does not speak.) Kyung-ah visits him in the hospital to inform him that she’s been named CEO, and asks for his secret account books. There are people wanting to see it, and she’s searched everywhere but can’t find them. She also tells Chae that Do-woo is still being examined by three different doctors, and has yet to be given a final diagnosis.
Detective Kim gives Shin a book containing a single picture drawn recently by Do-woo. He had insisted repeatedly on a sketchbook, so finally they had given him one, and this is what he had come up with. It’s a perplexing, possibly hidden message, and Shin seems to make a connection. He calls Kyung-ah.
He asks what she has that people want. Kyung-ah answers that it’s the secret account books of the bribes Chae had made over the past 30 years. Currently, men are over in the office searching for them.
Understanding that Kyung-ah isn’t free to talk, Shin asks yes or no questions — are these the people sent from those high-ranking shadowy men she’d mentioned before? (Yes.) Have they used these books to threaten Chae? (Yes.) Does she have it? (No.) Does she know where it is? (No.) If she tells the men she doesn’t know where it is, will they leave? (No.)
Shin asks her to transfer the phone to the man in charge, and bluffs that he’s got the account books, and will meet him in person. Grabbing Do-woo’s sketch, Shin leaves.
Shin and Jae-myung search Chae’s office, which has already been ransacked. The books contain accounts totaling in the 100 billion won range ($80 million).
Shin looks at the drawing, Do-woo’s coded message to him, deducing that the ring indicates Kyung-ah. Looking at the numbers (5000 – 4500 = 0), Shin recalls Do-woo’s proclamation that he could make Korea a top power by taking only the top 5 million out of the country’s 50 million people, leaving behind the bottom 45 million. (In Korean, 5,000 cheon-man equals 50 million, hence the numbers on the drawing.)
Shin realizes there’s no secret account, that Chae had used them merely as a threat. But without real books, how to save Kyung-ah? Shin tells Jae-myung he may have to flex his lawyer muscles.
Thus Jae-myung and Shin accompany Kyung-ah to the next secret meeting, where he announces himself as a representative of Chae. He presents a stack of account books, identifying them as the accounts they are looking for. He explains that Chae had entrusted him with a task to carry out, and he is complying with the man’s orders.
Shin pours liquid over them, causing the men to lurch in shock. Clearly, they want the information to use for themselves, although they don’t admit that. As Shin strikes a match, he explains that the chairman didn’t want to make trouble for these people with his account books. It’s a great moment because Shin speaks with false generosity — of course these men must want these books destroyed, because they don’t want to be incriminated by them! — and burns the stash, leaving the men yelping helplessly to put out the fire.
Then, he votes.
As he drives away, Shin turns on the radio to a talk show, where he listens to Kyung-tae talking finance. Now graduated from the internet to broadcast, Kyung-tae is a repeat guest as a financial expert on this program.
The host says that he must be rich because he’s so good with stocks, prodding him to brag of his personal wealth, to prove how much his advice has worked in his favor.
I love Kyung-tae’s disapproving response as he says, “Money is like Mazinger.” He starts recounting all the capabilities of the Mazinger robot from the comic book (rocket punch blast fire, lasers shooting from eyes), but reminds her that without the pilot, the robot is an empty tin can. “I am that pilot… Why are people more interested in the tin can? I find you people strange.”
When he finishes his job, he leaves his headphones behind, chatting pleasantly with producers without them.
Meanwhile, Jae-myung packs up, heading back to L.A. Mun-ho’s disappointed, although Jae-myung promises he’ll call him Uncle next time they meet. He also leaves Mun-ho a message for Shin: To do a good job, “so that I’d want to return to this country.”
At the airport, Jae-myung recalls the last time he left Korea, when his father sent him off as a child. I suppose this scene is like coming full circle for him, because he leaves now with his father issues resolved, at peace with the knowledge that his father did love him and that his killer is dead.
More circular resolution comes in the form of Shin, who arrives at Myung-sun’s new home — where she is accompanied by Joong-ho and some of the other Myungdoshi residents.
He gets out of the truck, and we see that it bears the name of Future Frozen Foods. Shin is now the president of the revived company.
Kyung-ah visits with Do-woo in the hospital, who remains unresponsive. A new persona has emerged, one who does math calculations all day and doesn’t speak. In this scene, Do-woo’s expression remains impassive while his hand moves in jittery movements, solving invisible equations.
Kyung-ah heads off to talk to the doctor, leaving Shin to watch over Do-woo.
Shin shows Do-woo the drawing, and like the last time, he speaks to him normally, not making allowances for his illness, saying he was touched that Do-woo would send him a message:
Shin: “If you make the slightest mistake, you’re heading to prison, not a hospital. You could be up for a life sentence, but even in that risk, you sent a message to me, your enemy. To watch over your wife. That’s what I thought at first. But Chae Do-woo, that account book your father has really exists, doesn’t it? You know where that is, don’t you?”
Do-woo stops fidgeting for a moment, then resumes.
Shin continues, “So are you waiting for your chance to get out, to get your hands on that book?” Shin laughs, “Then I have to wait for you again. And now I’m busy living my own life.”
He still wants some concession from Do-woo: “For you to send me a message in the last moment and acknowledge me as your enemy, shouldn’t you acknowledge me even once out of courtesy?”
Do-woo continues his calculations, and Shin sighs.
Kyung-ah arrives to take Do-woo back inside for his medication, helping him up — and suddenly, Do-woo moves smoothly, twirling her in a surprise kiss.
As Shin watches, Do-woo looks straight at him — and quirks up his mouth in a taunting smile.
Then, he’s back to playing mental patient, and Kyung-ah helps him inside.
Shin watches his enemy walk off, and smiles.
When I heard some people’s reaction to the finale, I was wary of how I might feel about it. It seems opinions were mixed, and I prepared myself for a letdown. There was a somewhat epilogue-y feeling to this episode, since most of it felt like a wrap-up to the prior threads, leaving me wondering how this would finally close.
Thanks be, I was actually really pleased with the ending, and enjoyed how it answers some questions while introducing a host of new ones. While I might normally find unanswered questions frustrating, I think the level of openness was just right.
For instance, the mayoral election. Part of me wanted to hear that Kim Jung-jin swooped in with a surprise victory, but on the other hand, I found that I liked not knowing the outcome. We’ve seen over and over how Shin has fought, and often lost, but bounced right back to fight some more. So in the scheme of things, if Kim lost the election, it’s not the end of the world. So what if Mayor Oh wins this time? Kim made impressive strides and gathered some more eggs to contribute to Shin’s pile. We’ve never been given one definitive victory over the course of this drama, and it’s always the fight that counts. (To bring in another pop-culture reference, this reminds me of the finale of the American show Angel, which is one of my favorite series finales of all time. Without spoiling the ending of that drama, let’s just say that it was also a show that was more about the ongoing fight than the ultimate victory.)
But then again, we don’t know that he lost for sure, so we can also hope that he won.
Shin’s joining with Kim’s campaign also marks another beginning for Shin, just when he’s about to give up. In the hospital scene with Kyung-tae, Shin has a resigned tone, hinting that he may leave for good to get away from all the painful memories of Eun-soo. Hearing Eun-soo’s comment about his eggs surprises him, but also reminds him that he had vowed to uphold the mayor’s work. I see that scene as a turning point in making this less about a fight against Do-woo, the singular evil, and more about evil as an overall, all-pervasive thing. It’s like Detective Kim scoffed in a previous episode, how Shin must have lived an awfully charmed life to believe that Do-woo is the only guy out there like that. If Shin wants to continue the mayor’s work, he ought to expand his scope to include all his eggs, not just the ones fighting Do-woo.
Gotta have some love for the rest of the Dream Team, and it’s always enjoyable to see Kyung-tae progressing. For instance, how he forces himself to speak without his headphones in the beginning of the episode, and by the end of the episode is able to (relatively easily) speak without them as a crutch anymore. He’s always going to be quirky, autistic Kyung-tae, but he is becoming more socially comfortable. It started when Shin drew him out of his nervous shell in prison, and his progress gives us hope for his future.
It’s a little sad to see the team break up, but I think Jae-myung’s departure fits with his personality, and also leaves the door open for him to return. He started out completely detached, only staying to avenge his father’s death. Like Shin, he didn’t quite get the complete victory that he wanted, but the chapter has closed for now and he’s relatively at peace with it. When he (possibly) returns, he hopes for a society that is marginally better than it is when he leaves it, entrusting that task to Shin. That isn’t to say that it’s up to Shin to improve the whole of Korea’s vices, but rather is his way of urging Shin to keep up the fight while he’s away.
Do-woo sure is a slippery fish, isn’t he?
Here’s why I dug the ending:
The whole multiple-personality thing was a bit out of left field, and while it does somewhat fit in with Do-woo’s mental illness, it sorta sucks the life out of the whole Do-woo/Shin conflict. It’s a deus ex machina, a fancy term explaining a concept generally scorned in literature in which some magical, external force swoops in at the last minute, solves problems, and leaves the audience feeling cheated of a real resolution. A deus ex machina is a last-minute solution, an act of god, a narrative cop-out, because while it may wrap up the plot, it tends to hijack the buildup and feels like a cheap conclusion. (For instance, imagine if a drama builds up all series long for a duel between two enemies, and on the way to the final battle, one of them gets run over by a car.)
So Do-woo’s hospitalization had elements of an empty victory. One might be able to make the argument that Shin is the better fighter than Do-woo and has proven his superiority, thus winning their standoff. (Remember how I said in that episode recap that it kind of felt like Do-woo was cheating by ordering Shin’s murder? He wants to win the game but doesn’t care that he has to steal his victory. Shin likewise wants to crush Do-woo, but he wanted to win fair and square — as he once pleaded with Do-woo to do — in order for the victory to feel complete.)
That’s how I interpret Shin’s smile at the end. He may have sorta-maybe caused Do-woo to self-destruct and give into his mental illness, but there’s part of him that’s itching to beat him for real, and for good. And I think he’s disappointed that things ended so abruptly between them — like the game concluded prematurely. That’s why he asks Do-woo for an acknowledgment, because he wants to KNOW that he’s right in believing Do-woo to be faking his mental illness. When Do-woo gives him that tiny acknowledgment, Shin is satisfied on some level, even if it signifies that the final battle has yet to be fought.
That’s why I like this ending, because had we cut out the last scene at the hospital, this drama would have allowed Do-woo to escape full punishment for his crimes; this mental illness felt like it let Do-woo off the hook. The last scene, then, puts him back on the hook. No, it doesn’t solve their rivalry, but at least it doesn’t finish it unsatisfactorily.
So Shin has won this round, and he’s going to go on and live his life happily without dwelling on Do-woo’s condition, but he’ll be on alert to destroy him when the time comes, if it comes. As they say, living well is the best revenge, and until he gets his chance at ultimate payback (if he gets that at all), at least Shin will be able to live out his daily revenge by living happily.
OVERALL DRAMA COMMENTS
Kim Kang-woo must be acknowledged as the star, who gave Do-woo his creepy brilliance. While many actors seem to subscribe to the theory that going bigger is better — as though afraid we’ll miss their genius if they don’t Act! It! Out! Like! This! — Kim Kang-woo dialed it back and gave Do-woo life in his small, measured, controlled movements and his modulated voice. Crazy, Loud, and Violent can be frightening, but Crazy, Silent, and Blank is a helluva lot scarier. And it makes his gradual unraveling that much more chilling. Kim was a bad guy who was fun to root for, even though he was so very bad at times. What’s impressive is that while Do-woo’s mental illness may have had roots in his daddy issues, this drama didn’t cop out and make Daddy the only one responsible — in showing us the real Do-woo in the end, in full possession of his sanity, we put some of the responsibility back on Do-woo’s shoulders for his acts of evil.
His sister-love was a unique element of this drama, but thankfully wasn’t sensationalized into some kind of perverse, incestuous obsession. Do-woo’s attachment to Eun-soo was possessive, and toward the end it seemed he wanted her more as a possession than as a companion, but it was a dynamic that couldn’t be boiled down into a reductive formula, and for that I am appreciative. His relationship to K is another example of this kind of handling, because while we can all see traces of “OMG, K is sooo in love with Do-woo” throughout the drama, it wasn’t served to us in an overt, flashy way.
Although Do-woo tended to steal the show, much love to Park Yong-ha for his portrayal of Shin, and making him someone I rooted for. I’ve never been a fan of Park Yong-ha (based on Winter Sonata and On Air), but Story of a Man turned me around to him. I don’t think his performance rivaled Kim Kang-woo’s, but he held his own and portrayed Shin as a worthy opponent to an evil mastermind, who was defeated many times but never played it in a sad-sack, gloomy, depressed way. He bounced back and learned from his mistakes and above all learned to move on with his life. Without Shin’s perseverance, without his determination to defeat his enemy, Do-woo’s brilliance would not have had a chance to show itself, and they both brought out the best in each other, if by best you mean most creative and manipulative.
I see good things in Park Ki-woong‘s future, if he keeps up the momentum gained from playing Kyung-tae as he did, without vanity and without holding back. I half-expected Kyung-tae to begin curtailing his odd, nervous tics about halfway through, because if there’s anything I know about Korean actors, it’s that vanity tends to rear its head when playing non-hottie characters. But Kyung-tae remained as adorably eccentric in the end as he was at the outset, and although he tended to remain in the background, Park Ki-woong didn’t relax his guard and start to half-ass his role. He’s really grown a lot from his earlier days, and his future looks bright.
Philip Lee is still green as an actor, and I tend to think that it’s a good thing he’s so well-suited for Jae-myung, because it worked around his limitations. (I think his acting flaws are actually most evident in his English-language lines, which were often delivered a bit flat.) But yeesh, does this guy have charisma, and he has the good fortune of being on writer Song Ji-nah’s good side (she wrote this character for him after his performance in Legend).
Park Shi-yeon was not my favorite part of the drama, which is partially the fault of her character. (Booo Kyung-ah.) I think her role may have been played just as well by a number of other actresses, which is not to say that she sucked, but is more an indication that she didn’t put her own stamp on the character.
To the contrary, then, is the nicest surprise of the drama in Han Yeo-woon, who started out as a small role and gradually became the center of the drama. She played Eun-soo with a lovely sweetness — innocent at heart, but not a doll for men to toy with. She took a moral stand and lived and died by it.
This drama was a delight to watch — every episode, every storyline was smartly written, sharply directed, and acted with emotion. The music was skillfully applied, the shots layered with meaning. The plots were often dense and intricately wound up, but that made the discovery that much more satisfying as the threads unfurled and gave away its secrets, one by one.
It’s weird to think of an intense, oft-dark revenge thriller being a joy to watch, but Story of a Man was that. It’s rare to be able to watch a show and have complete faith in it the whole way through; often you give your heart to a drama and it betrays you halfway through or, even worse, at the very end. Sometimes a series will fall prey to viewer demands, at other times the production will compromise its goals for whatever reason — ratings, broadcast station pressure, actor demands. This drama had middling ratings at best, but it was always confident in its storytelling, and that showed through the end.
I won’t call Story of a Man the best of 2009 just yet, with a whole six months remaining in the year — but let me just say that if a drama comes along to challenge this one for the top spot, this will have been an excellent year indeed.
- Story of a Man: Episode 19
- Story of a Man: Episode 18
- Story of a Man: Episode 17
- Story of a Man: Episode 16
- Story of a Man: Episode 15
- Story of a Man: Episode 14
- Story of a Man: Episode 13
- Story of a Man: Episode 12
- Story of a Man: Episode 11
- Story of a Man: Episode 10
- Story of a Man: Episode 9
- Story of a Man: Episode 8
- Story of a Man: Episode 7
- Story of a Man: Episode 6
- Story of a Man: Episode 5
- Park Ki-woong moved to tears at acting praise
- Kim Kang-woo: Birth of a Devil
- Story of a Man: Episodes 3 & 4
- Story of a Man: Episodes 1 & 2