Flower of Evil: What I love about this drama (Halfway Review)
I recently sped through the first 8 episodes of Flower of Evil, and have to say it's one of the most addictive and well-produced dramas I've seen so far in 2020. Expectations were fairly high going in, as Lee Joon Gi and Moon Chae Won are two of my favorite Korean actors and I expected they'd have no issues bringing chemistry and charisma to their respective roles. What's surprised me is just how smartly written the story is - this is a show that's not afraid to go dark and mysterious, and which has me gasping at the major reveals in each episode. As of the halfway mark, I feel like viewers finally have a clear understanding of what type of person Lee Joon Gi's character, Baek Hee Sung (also Do Hyun Soo) is and are eager to follow his journey towards the truth behind his family's dark secrets.
The characterization and portrayal of Hee Sung by Lee Joon Gi is absolutely stellar and drives the majority of the drama's addictive factor. He starts off darkly charismatic and slowly evolves into a compelling and sympathetic lead. We want to figure out the truth for his sake, and similarly to his detective wife Cha Ji Won, we want to figure out what his true motivations and feelings are underneath the facade he's been living with.
Ji Won unfortunately just isn't quite as interesting a character, even if I appreciate her clear strength and ability to fend for herself. What I like is that she tries to understand her husband before condemning him, something that worse written dramas may have skipped over. She's smart enough to be suspicious and self-protective, but also realistically loves and wants to protect her husband despite the truths she learns about him. Moon Chae Won has always had such an ability to earth out the emotion and inner conflict of a scene, and she's perfectly cast here even if I find Ji Won a bit boringly straight-laced compared to the complexity of Hee Sung.
As mentioned, I do love their chemistry together, but the romance is clearly not the focus of the story. These are two people who have already built a life together at the point where we meet them, so the meet-cute moments don't really exist except in the few flashbacks. Instead, what we're rooting for is the truth to prevail, and hoping against hope that somehow these two are able to stay together despite the immense barriers in their path. Lee Jun Ki has also never been the type of male lead that I've found swoonworthy with his female leads, if that makes sense. I find him on his own plenty attractive and swoony, but the drama relationships and chemistry with his female leads have always felt a bit tepid (think Two Weeks and Scarlet Heart Ryeo, although I blame both of those on the very robotic and lackluster performances from the female leads).
Point is, I kind of wish we could get a typical meet-cute and bicker sort of romance between Moon and Lee, but I still enjoy the heck out of their roles here and absolutely love the story (which spans far beyond just romance).
The drama is perfectly paced - each episode is packed with development, action, and just enough reveals to assuage your curiosity but also keep you engaged and interested in what we'll learn next. The music is correspondingly moody and rich, setting a fittingly suspenseful tone. The side plots thus far have been interesting and have worked in establishing the basis of the personalities for both our leads. Overall I've loved watching this drama from the very start and am bating my breath for each new episode.
As of the end of episode 8, we've seen the formation of our crime-solving trio, comprising of Hee Sung / Hyun Soo, Kim Moo Jin (who's really grown on me as the bumbling unlikely ally after all the drama of his You-like lock-up in the basement) and Do Hae Soo. I love the casting of Jang Hee Jin in this role (I haven't seen her in anything else thus far, but from what I've seen I'm impressed), as she brings such a sad sense of longing to the role (that reunion scene was gut-wrenching) and just as importantly, she looks similar enough to Lee Jun Ki that I buy their sibling relationship. In fact, all of the castings have been spot-on, including the high-school versions of these two, with everyone bearing a strong resemblance to their adult counterparts (which is too often not always the case, as 30 but 17's bad adolescent casting choice showed us).
I want Ji Won to join this trio, and I want more than anything for Hee Sung and Ji Won to work out their relationship at the end of all this, because Moon Chae Won and Lee Joon Gi have so perfectly sold their perfect sense of belonging to me. The flashbacks of their meeting and her determined courtship of him was so endearing and sweet, and Lee Joon Gi does a great job navigating the apathy of Hyun Soo's nature with the sense of connection he feels for Ji Won.
I like the side characters too, and am so interested in what happened to the real Baek Hee Sung. We know he's bound to be a meaty character, given the casting of Kim Ji Hoon in this role. I am interested to see how his eventual wake-up further chips at Hyun Soo's ability to hold on to Hee Sung's identity. The Baek parents are themselves the right mix of spooky and crazy, but with undertones of decency, so I'm interested to see their role grow as well. Lastly, this accomplice mystery (along with the central Do Min Seok serial killing story) is so well-paced and something I'm very creeped out by but also very interested in. The twists to date have been hard to predict and very satisfying to see, and I have high hopes for what's to come.
If I had to name a downside, it's that Flower of Evil airs only on Rakuten Viki which is not my preferred medium for watching dramas. First, it's got an awful connected TV interface (the dimensions are off so the subtitles always get cut off) and the ads are relentless and incredibly glitchy on a TV. Even more annoyingly, the subs are still volunteer-fed, so it takes up to a week to get the fully subbed version of an episode. Contrast this with Netflix, which manages to release fully subbed versions immediately following the airing in Korea, and plays without glitch in HD on my TV. If anyone from Viki reads this, please take note and improve your interface / hire some real subbers if you want to compete with the legit streaming players!
But let that not detract you from watching, because this show satisfies me in a way I haven't felt about a Korean drama in ages.