I’m a little late to this makjang party, but thought it’d be fun to weigh in on the first episode of surprisingly ten-fingered Five Fingers, which is well into the first act of its run by now.
Sporting some lush cinematography and a commandingly vulnerable performance by Chae Si-ra, the first episode delivers on what you’d expect: birth secrets, sibling rivalries, adultery, dead grandmas, senile living grandmas, and the one kid who just happens to be born as a genius in whatever it is that his secret father does. It wouldn’t be Baker King Kim Tak-goo if Tak-goo was a genius architect, would it? Same rule applies here.
Episode 1 premiered to 11.2% ratings, but you might know it better by its controversial casting kerfuffle.
Note: Yes, this is another one of those one-time-only recaps.
SONG OF THE DAY
Franz Liszt – “La Campanella – Grandes Etudes de Paganini” [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
In front of a full audience and under the gleam of spotlights, the opening chords of Franz Liszt’s “La Campanella” are teased from a grand piano, one of two on the stage.
One pair of skilled hands belongs to YOO JI-HO (Joo Ji-hoon), but he’s not alone, since the pianist sitting across from him begins to play notes that not only are complementary, but complete the piece.
YOO IN-HA (Ji Chang-wook) gives off a self-satisfied air as he glances away from the keys and to his pianist companion as the music reaches a crescendo, which is right when a voiceover sounds in past tense, noting that Ji-ho was recently elected as Chairman of Buseong Group.
We know any company with the word ‘group’ in it means big money, but the news-voiceover seems speculative about Ji-ho’s decision to have his inauguration ceremony be a concert where he could face off against his younger brother, In-ha.
Meanwhile, the CEO of Buseong Group CHAE YOUNG-RANG (Chae Si-ra) is touted as the sole reason why their group has become one of the top ten in Korea as she dresses in a gown gifted by her husband for the inauguration.
There’s a tiny taste of the conflict to come as we hear that Ji-ho, along with being Buseong’s top shareholder, has had some disputes with In-ha over the company. What good is a makjang if family members actually get along?
Everything seems to be going well for the ceremony, until Ji-ho lights a candle… and lets it drop to the table, setting everything alight. He watches this placidly, even as the smoke starts curling under Young-rang’s doorway.
She steps into a living room engulfed in flames, with Ji-ho staring silently across the way. Young-rang cries out for his help as his mother, but he coldly turns away and leaves her trapped. Unable to escape as a chandelier shakes precariously above her head, Young-rang screams as it falls from the ceiling and comes crashing down…
…Which is the perfect time to cut to a flashback from fourteen years ago. At Jeju Island, a petulant boy runs from his grandma, who’s about ready to beat him for stealing food from guests. It’s good-natured annoyance, even though the boy is truly hungry and without money.
He gives Grandma a sausage-for-dinner request before he goes running off, but the sight of three boys eating outside of a market puts him in an even sourer mood.
Meanwhile, a privileged boy sniffs at the mini-banquet prepared for him as his mom, a younger Young-rang, caters to his every wish. Surprisingly, the boy turns out to be In-ha, and he’s kind of a brat. He knows he’s got Mom wrapped around his piano-playing fingers and orders her around without a care.
Young-rang doesn’t just take abuse from her son but from her crabby mother-in-law as well, and is the first to back down and apologize for every complaint, something which surprisingly has In-ha annoyed. He doesn’t seem to be a fan of Mom apologizing needlessly to Grandma.
I’m gonna go ahead and take a guess that the poor disenfranchised boy is Ji-ho, who shows an ear for pitch as he picks up a guest’s guitar for the first time and replicates sounds from his house as though he’d been learning all along.
In-ha plays the piano as accompaniment for a young girl singing while Mom watches from the audience. He doesn’t like her and cruelly ups the pitch, which causes the girl’s voice to crack before she runs off stage crying. He smirks after her.
Outside, the girl hits him with her backpack while her mom blames In-ha for raising the pitch. He’s not sorry at all, and Young-rang feigning innocence doesn’t help their cause, since the girl’s mom knows she’s a retired pianist.
Turns out Young-rang did see what her son did, and when she asks In-ha about it he claims he did it because that girl looked down on him. Mom pleads with him not to disappoint her and his father: “To Mom and to Dad, you are our only dream.”
But In-ha immediately shoots back, “Dad said this too: If you’re born a boy, you can’t bow down to others. He said being weak is worse than being a coward. I’m never going to apologize to that wench even if I die!”
Young-rang gets called out by an old friend(?) who seems a bit sarcastic as she notes that Young-rang was poor as dirt before she married up. She’s got a recital coming up with Buseong as her sponsor (they sell musical instruments, as fate would have it) and Young-rang tries to cover up her surprise by acting like she was the one who forwarded the sponsorship request through.
But her frenemy has some nasty news for her: She’s been seeing Young-rang’s husband, Chairman Yoo, for six months. She’s got the works as a mistress, like an officetel, car, and now the recital.
One gift she did refuse was Young-rang’s original engagement ring, which she slides over the table. “Being a supportive wife doesn’t mean you will be loved,” her frenemy coolly reminds her before sauntering off, leaving Young-rang to silently fight her desolation.
The topic of inheritance comes up with
Cheats McGee Chairman Yoo (Jo Min-ki), but he’s not pleased with In-ha’s antics and plans to cut down his stocks every time In-ha upsets him.
Chairman Yoo comes home and asks Young-rang about the trouble In-ha got in at school, claiming that he can’t put In-ha in charge of Buseong just because he has a talent for the piano.
Her husband’s mistress had mentioned which maid in the household had been acting as her spy, so Young-rang tells her husband that she fired that maid because “The ring I favored disappeared.”
Chairman Yoo seems suspicious that Young-rang might have found out about the affair, but convinces himself that it’s fine.
Grandma gets to use a pager to call Young-rang whenever she wants, and it’s becoming increasingly more apparent that Grandma is going senile, since she can’t remember her birthday was last week or that she took a shower ten minutes ago.
Despite that, Grandma still tears her a new one about being so meek all the time and apologizing: “But what are you plotting behind it? Even though you can fool others, you can’t fool me, because you’re just like me. Your maiden family is wretchedly poor. Your husband’s family is so rich. I’ve gone through everything you’ve gone through, so that is why I can’t trust you.”
Chairman Yoo comes in to diffuse the situation, and takes Grandma for a swim while Young-rang looks on dejectedly, the weight of her husband’s betrayal bearing down on her.
In-ha’s less of a brat than I initially thought, and genuinely loves his mother. It’s adorable that he wants to protect her from everything, and tells her to believe only in him. “Don’t be sad even if Grandma keeps bothering you. I’ll be the best pianist, and I’ll make your dream come true. Got it?” Aww.
He definitely lifts Young-rang’s mood, and they discuss the upcoming competition his dad is sponsoring. But he’s got his eye on the prize, and plans to win.
Chairman Yoo ends up finding Young-rang’s ring in the pool, and knows she knows: “You’re going to stay next to your husband as though nothing ever happened?”
It’s a stormy night, and Ji-ho’s Grandma laments a measly $200 deposit she’s been getting for over ten years from Ji-ho’s real parent(s), who left him behind.
Ji-ho’s scared to death of thunder and tries to follow Grandma outside, only he’s a second too late; she gets hit by the same car that splashed water on him earlier that day.
And the poor kid sobs over Grandma’s body in the rain, while the Yoo household gets a call that she died. (Well, it’s not like we could be surprised at the connection.)
The Guitar Man staying at Grandma’s house gets pulled into the police station with Ji-ho, with Guitar Man proclaiming his innocence. Ji-ho didn’t get to see the car clearly but remembers the sound of the car horn (with his genius pitch and all).
This brings him to remember the car that splashed him, and the stuffed frog hanging in the back window.
In-ha gets royal bath treatment from his maids and Young-rang, who stresses to her son the importance of a pianist’s hands. She gets called off to Grandma’s meal as she all but shoves every plate into her mouth, eating everything she’s not supposed to as a diabetic.
Young-rang tries to stop her, and doesn’t bat an eyelash when Grandma offers her all that she owns if she’ll let her eat what she wants. Young-rang claims she doesn’t have that kind of greed, but Grandma isn’t hearing it, and offers the maids gold in exchange for giving her more food.
Young-rang gets a call from a woman who seems like a family relation, but she wants money for a ticket to America. Young-rang finally puts her foot down and claims she won’t spend needlessly anymore, and hangs up.
Ji-ho is left alone in his grandma’s house, and cries when he finds that she’d made him sausage just like he asked for.
However, he doesn’t get to stay alone long, since a group of gangsters come in and kidnap him kicking and screaming. Their exit is blocked by the high tide, which has overrun the bridge from Jeju to the mainland, so Ji-ho uses the opportunity to try and escape.
He leads his kidnappers on a merry chase before he tries swimming away, ending up strewn on a beach. The gangsters easily find him again, only this time, they’re accompanied by Chairman Yoo.
Ji-ho: “Ajusshi, who are you?” Chairman Yoo: “I am a person known as your dad.” Dun dun dun.
Chairman Yoo/Dad tells Ji-ho that his grandma’s murderer was caught thanks to his excellent hearing skills, and tells his son to live more like his father. O-kay… the one that he just met? Give the kid a second, jeez.
Dad tells Ji-ho that his last name is Yoo now, and that name will protect him. “I’m sorry for finding you so late. This is the first time I’m saying sorry in my life. I’m sure I’ll not have a reason to say it to you again.”
Ji-ho’s brought home to meet the rest of the family, as Chairman Yoo explains that he’s the son of a woman he was with before he got married, and that the woman had her mother raise Ji-ho without him knowing. So for just finding out like one day ago that he had a secret son, he seems totally fine.
Since Ji-ho is older, Chairman Yoo declares him Instant Hyung, an idea which has In-ha fuming. He even reprimands In-ha for protesting: “From this time on, Ji-ho is my older son. Even if the sky falls down, this will not change. If anyone in this house can’t accept this truth, get out of this house this instant.”
Just like that, In-ha is dethroned, and I can’t really blame him for hating everything about this situation.
Young-rang tries to talk things over with her husband, not upset because he has a new son but upset about what it means for In-ha. Chairman Yoo is pushing the boundaries of sanity as he grabs his wife and admits that he feels competitive when he sees her, and does everything he can to see what will make his meek and apologetic wife cry or lose her temper.
But, to him this is all payback for her betrayal, since she saw a man while studying abroad on his sponsorship. (Supposedly.) This explains the piano record she was listening to earlier, and his reaction when he saw the initials “J.W.” addressing it to her.
No amount of pleading will get Chairman Yoo off of his high horse of vengeance, and he sees Young-rang raising Ji-ho as a way to make her suffer.
Ji-ho gets premium spa treatment and is pretty uncomfortable about it, and things get even worse when he goes to the room he’s sharing with In-ha.
In-ha taunts his new hyung and calls him a beggar, an exchange which ends with Ji-ho twisting In-ha’s priceless wrist. Young-rang and Dad come to break it up, and Young-rang tamps down her own protests once she sees that his wrist is fine.
“He is your hyung, so he can do it,” Mom says with an air of resignation. She even apologizes to Ji-ho for In-ha making him mad. At least Dad steps up and punishes Ji-ho.
He again tries to get a rise out of Young-rang by telling her that Ji-ho’s mother was her late best friend and rival. “At least for your friend, raise our Ji-ho well. You were no match for her talent. She was an outstanding piano prodigy.”
He leaves her to her flower cutting, and her repressed rage causes her to grip a rose stem so hard that she bleeds.
It storms again that night, leaving Ji-ho fuh-reaking out in the laundry room where he’s been locked (for punishment). He eventually just passes out, and wakes up under Young-rang’s gentle care.
Perhaps needing some motherly love, Ji-ho leans his head on her chest. I like that Young-rang is so wonderful to him, even telling him that he can lean on her anytime. “I want to get along with you, honestly,” she stresses as she hugs him.
This is the first time Ji-ho’s ever been hugged, but he can’t understand why Young-rang doesn’t hate him. She tells him that it’s not his fault, and that this is his house now, too. Aww. The power of motherly love.
The next morning, Young-rang tries to figure out why In-ha’s piano piece sounds different than the last time. Ji-ho pipes up that it was different, and Young-rae checks the sheet music to find that In-ha did get a note wrong.
Curiosity piqued, Young-rang tests Ji-ho’s ear by asking him to identify which notes she plays blind, and he passes with flying colors. He’s got a natural talent for pitch, as Chairman Yoo also finds out.
Chairman Yoo is a terrible father, as he demeans In-ha’s abilities as due to years of practice and praises Ji-ho’s ability from being born a natural prodigy. He even brings up inheritance, and blatantly says he’ll give the company to whichever child is superior in piano playing.
This causes In-ha to practice so hard that he sweats all over the keys, while Ji-ho gets his first piano lesson ever from the same teacher.
Ji-ho wants to join the school’s instrument club as well, but In-ha tries to get him out by telling the other kids that Ji-ho was just an orphan his dad brought home.
But Ji-ho is determined to get in, so In-ha administers an almost impossible audition by having Ji-ho replicate the song he hears from a violin on the piano. He passes easily.
Next up is a flute, and this time Ji-ho not only replicates the basic notes but turns the tune into an advanced piano medley. The rest of the kids are wowed at his ability, but In-ha is left jealous and fuming.
Once they’re outside their house, In-ha lets all his pent-up rage out on Ji-ho, mostly mad on his mom’s behalf because “she became the world’s most pitiful person.” Aww.
But then he throws Ji-ho into the pool, becoming alarmed when Ji-ho stays face down and unmoving. He jumps in to save him, but Ji-ho pops out of the water laughing: “It’s refreshing, right? I felt bad for being the only one, so I wanted you to try.”
Brotherly antics! It’s kind of cute how mad In-ha is, but I think they’re making some headway.
Grandma steals pancakes from a husband and wife team at a street stall, who are apparently used to this happening. (I love the City of Angels poster thrown in there, just to remind us what year we’re in.)
The husband is deaf, and signs what he says to his pregnant wife while we hear him in voiceover. They’re adorable together, especially since they both have big hearts and seem to be just genuinely nice people.
They do talk about their daughter though, in the hopes that one day they can make enough money to buy her a piano.
We apparently find that daughter staring through a shop window at a piano, and Ji-ho soon joins her. She smiles as she says that she comes every day to look through the window until sunset, and dreams that her dad will one day buy it for her.
Ji-ho gets her inside by lying to the owner, even though she doesn’t know what to do once she gets to the piano because she’s never learned how to play. There’s no opportunity like the present, so Ji-ho teaches her the basics, enough for them to play “Chopsticks” together.
The girl starts to cry when she realizes her dad will never be able to hear this sound: “I really want to play for my dad.” Ji-ho: “You can play the piano with heart instead of sound, then he can hear it.”
The owner chases them out, and together they ride on his bike through a pretty, tree-lined road.
Ji-ho comes home late, and gets a solid thrashing from Daddy Dearest for stepping out of line. He blames Young-rang too for just waiting around for Ji-ho to get home, and she apologizes, as usual.
He thinks she waited because she loves Ji-ho less, and warns her: “I won’t endure it if you ignore my son.” Then he tells them that Ji-ho will be entering the upcoming piano competition even though there isn’t enough time. Chairman Yoo doesn’t care, because he’s terrible like that.
Young-rang tends to Ji-ho’s sore shins, putting the blame on herself for him being out late. “Although I didn’t give birth to you, you are my son, just like In-ha. Let’s accept one another. Although I’m lacking, from now on, I’ll do my best.” She asks for him to call her ‘mother’ from now on, even though he doesn’t do so right away.
Young-rang has to break the news to In-ha about Ji-ho entering the competition, and In-ha is furious. When Mom tells him that both he and Ji-ho are her precious sons, he fires back that he’s her only son.
Ji-ho challenges In-ha on why he doesn’t want to compete with him, admitting that he’s terrified of the piano just like In-ha should be. This makes In-ha Smash!, so he throws Ji-ho against their aquarium wall, causing the glass to fracture.
Young-rang sees this and, knowing it’s dangerous, grabs the two boys to get them out of dodge before the glass shatters and water comes pouring out. But once on the ground, she’s only holding Ji-ho.
Just based off the first scene of the episode, I was expecting a Flames of Ambition-esque matriarch figure, the kind of woman who’s fought tooth and nail to get to the top and is going to fight tooth and nail to stay there throughout the series.
I was pleasantly surprised then to see Young-rang as a meek but ultimately goodhearted madonna, one who represses her emotions not for a future plan of vengeance (at least, not that we know of), but just because it’s in her nature to be agreeable to a fault.
Most of her appeal comes from Chae Si-ra’s nuanced performance – again, something I wasn’t really expecting from the first outing of a weekend makjang. I’m not sure if she’ll be able to stay this way through the series, but even if she undergoes some evil change down the line, at least we get an idea of who she used to be and why. That’s a better route than Evil Mother From Hell on the very first day.
I wouldn’t say that makjang is refreshing, but there are so many makjang tropes that were just plain avoided by making Young-rang so pitiful. In your normal garden variety makjang, I’d expect her to make a huge deal about her husband cheating (she didn’t say a word), reject Ji-ho as an illegitimate son (she accepted him wholeheartedly), and start scheming a way to make sure her real son inherits the company (she thinks of both equally as her sons).
The fact that none of that happened was honestly just nice, and subverted my expectations in a pleasant way. The bread and butter of makjang dramas tends to fall on parents with either not enough love for all their children, or too much love to the point of obsession. The fact that Young-rang has enough love in her heart for not only her son but a son that isn’t even hers speaks volumes about her character, and makes up the most interesting facet of the show for me.
I don’t really get Chairman Yoo or most of his issues, mostly because he fails as a husband and a father. It’s not love to put your children through an emotional wringer of constant competition, and I don’t even know if it qualifies as tough love. I get that he has some serious issues with his wife, but what is up with dumping your son that you’ve raised for your new and shiny son?
Maybe they’re meant to occupy both sides of the extreme – Young-rang with love to spare and Chairman Yoo with a piano-shaped hole where his heart should be. All I know is that, despite being a bit of a brat, this whole situation has tipped the scales against In-ha, so him lashing out just seems normal and human. Especially if he’s been practicing his whole life for what his new hyung can do instantly and effortlessly, along with that same hyung gaining instant acceptance from his mother and obvious favor from his father. Who wouldn’t be upset? (But, yes, throwing your brother into a wall of glass isn’t ideal.)
I just hope that the childhood backstory doesn’t overstay its welcome, because with such a great upcoming adult cast, why wait?