Money Flower (2017-2018)
I suspect this will be the closest we'll ever get to a K version of Nirvana in Fire and the Count of Monte Cristo. It occurred to me even in those early episodes how Count of Monte Cristo-like the narrative was. A child presumed dead who had taken on another identity and even went to prison in some else's stead. Then a long-term revenge plan involving large sums of money and public officials. Certainly it was riddled with overused K drama tropes like birth secrets, chaebol infighting and psychotic ridiculously ambitious mothers but unlike your run-of-the-mill weekend makjang, this was masterfully achieved. The acting, the writing, the direction were all top notch but there's no doubt that this series belonged to the wonderful Jang Hyuk who after Beautiful Mind and Money Flower has cemented his place as the best actor of his generation. He was mesmerizing... absolutely mesmerizing... from start to finish. He made every single moment of every single scene matter. His Kang Pil Joo was both an enigma and an open book. For those who saw him as their running dog he was an enigma but for those of us fortunate to be privy to his inner life, he was a lonely but determined soul carrying the weight of death on his shoulders.
I think I was hooked practically from the start constantly wondering what KPJ was up to... what his endgame was... how he would extricate himself from a very tight corner that he would inevitably find himself in. His patience... his doggedness (no pun intended) was inhuman. Except for Grandpa, I don't even if anyone else was even in his league. As the old chairman himself soon realised, KPJ was the true successor of his indomitable spirit. All the other actors were good but they were playing pretty much standard stock characters from your weekend family fare... the usurping imposter, the ruthless patriarch gleefully looking on while he wavers on the succession issue, the highly driven mother, who would do anything for her child, the good girl that's exploited, a public figure who falls from grace, backstabbing relatives, children born out of wedlock etc etc. But KPJ seemed to be above the fray. His apparent god-like ubiquity were our ears and eyes into the self-inflicted insanity of the fabulously wealthy driven by a ludicrous sense of entitlement. Luckily it seemed, KPJ was streets ahead of almost everyone and yet Jang Hyuk was able to imbue the character with so much humanity.
Even though he was largely painted as an anti-hero, I don't know if there was ever a time I was never on his side. Even when he helped orchestrate BC and MH's marriage, and convinced Congressman Na to work with the family, I always thought that ultimately everyone made their own choices. I don't doubt they were manipulated to some degree into dancing to his tune but if the desire/greed hadn't been there, he wouldn't have had much sway. Certainly I had a lot of sympathy for MH who was largely an innocent in all of this. However, I realise that monsters are made and in this the old chairman definitely has a lot to answer for. On top of that, his lack of self-awareness is galling.
The one thing we certainly learnt from KPJ is that patience is truly a virtue. Maybe one of the most important ones especially in a day and age of instant-everything. Nobody waits much for anything anymore. But KPJ waited 20 years to finally expose Exec Jung for being the villain she truly was and reveal to Grandpa his true identity. But almost everyone else was anxious for things to happen quickly, take short-cuts without laying the groundwork that he did mainly because they feel entitled to the rewards as a birthright. Exec. Jung may have thought she was raising a dog to do her bidding but she relied so heavily on the dog to do all the thinking for her that it was finally in the position to bite back.
There's seldom anything pleasant about revenge. The casualties are high and innocents get caught in the cross fire but the thing I appreciate most about Money Flower is that in his bid for vengeance KPJ never entirely loses his head or his humanity... thus paving a road to redemption for himself. I was wondering about the stabbing scene at the end and the abruptness of it. In the end I could only conclude that it signalled a death to KPJ but the rebirth of JEC... a new beginning with no hidden agenda... just a gifted businessman looking for a fresh start professionally and maybe relationally too.
At the end of the day, KPJ was able to tear down a rotting house of cards because the superstructure had been weakened by corrupt practices over time. Like Mei Chang Su in Nirvana in Fire, he gained a foothold in places where he knew his adversaries were vulnerable despite the protections that their fabulous wealth afforded them. Even with all his workmanlike machinations, ultimately his opponents fell on swords they had forged over time.