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Reborn Rich (2022) Episodes 15-16
The take off was good. The flight went without a hitch. But the landing left much to be desired.
The finale was not terrible. I have no desire to flip tables. Or even to pull my hair out. I am however getting somewhat weary of not-terrible but nothing-great endings. Which seems to be the standard in K dramaland in the months that made up 2022. Life is too short to be investing hours in dramas that can’t seem to stick the landing after raising expectations.
*Spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.*
In one of the most beloved episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation Captain Jean-Luc Picard falls prey to the unknown workings of a passing space probe. When he gains consciousness he finds himself on a planet known as Kataan where he is supposedly an inhabitant of. Try as he might there’s no way to escape. As his time passes on the planet, he reluctantly settles down, marries and raises a family reaching a ripe old age of 85. Meanwhile his crew on the starship Enterprise are trying to sever his connection to the probe only to put their captain’s life in jeopardy. As he wanders around the planet Picard finds out that Kataan is in grip of a drought and makes futile attempts to find a solution to it as the people around him gradually passes. Later on his daughter realises that the planet is headed for extinction. One day the people of Kataan prepare for a missile launch to release a probe in search of a “repository” who will tell their story as their civilization comes to an abrupt end. Picard soon realises that the probe is the very same one that brought him to Kataan three decades earlier. When he finally wakes up on the Enterprise, he has only been unconscious for 25 minutes.
As the show makes no attempt to provide even the murkiest explanation for its temporal device I can only hazard a guess that something along the lines of that ST: TNG episode “The Inner Light” is what Reborn Rich was shooting for. The soul of a man lives the life of another, takes on his identity, shapes his future and despite his best intentions, is helpless to prevent the inevitable. What he sees and does while he’s in another man’s body is meant to be instructive as he gains a wealth of knowledge BUT in the long run doesn’t seem necessary for the final showdown with his enemies.
As a succession story, Reborn Rich is a masterful piece of storytelling. As a revenge story there are flashes of brilliance. But as a redemption story for its present day protagonist, it is flawed at its foundations. The set-up isn’t there to support it. There’s no obvious progression in the preceding episodes that would indicate that atonement for Yoon Hyeon-woo was where the writer was headed particularly if the vast majority of the audience were already convinced that he was dead from a gunshot to the head. Frankly, it’s hard to come back from that close range. That’s also certainly what the transmigrated Hyeon-woo thought while he was being Jin Do-jun. He was dead. Being reborn as the youngest grandson of the conglomerate’s founder was opportunity to do a lot of good, make a difference with the privilege he had.
Of course at the back of my mind, I always had a niggling sense that Hyeon-woo could still be alive. K dramas are notorious for bringing people back from the dead especially at the 11th hour. So as long as the body hasn’t been seen on an autopsy table one can’t assume anything. That, however, doesn’t mean I approve.
So basically the show changes the soul transmigration trope into some kind of comatosed unconscious playing out of past events. The writer seems to have taken a leaf out of the Life in Mars playbook. Well not really. In Life on Mars, the protagonist hears voices, unexplained noises and sees inexplicable images. Here Yoon Hyeon-woo sails through life as Jin Do-jun never once questioning the state of his mental health because there’s never any reason to. The set-up just isn’t there in Reborn Rich for a convincing subversion of the original transmigration story.
Then there’s the elephant in the room that’s never addressed. Are the two men doppelgangers in the original timeline or the second? No one ever comments about their identical appearance. It’s like the good o’l days when Lois Lane couldn’t tell that Clark Kent was Superman by virtue of the extra pair of glasses.
It is also egregiously convenient that Sung-jun throws a hissy fit in the middle of an important hearing in spectacular fashion right in front of the cameras when he could have easily dodged the issue by pretending that he had no idea of what his father did. He could have easily denied knowledge of everything. Afterall he should be rather resentful of his father for allowing him to be the scapegoat of rumours for the better part of 20 years. This would be his opportunity to clarify his position, to distance himself from his father's actions and get some PR currency. Mason Oh's 20 year seclusion after Do-jun’s death is something I don’t buy. Why didn't he go back to the States? What happened to Rachel? And if Mason was that bitter about being privy to the Soonyang infighting, why was he so easily talked into helping Hyeon-woo?
It just feels like everything got wrapped up because it was time to. It was too hasty. And frankly, far too easy. Recovery from a gunshot wound to the head took 1 week with no long-term issues or need for physical therapy? Yeah, I have a bridge I’d like to sell the writer.
The most problematic part of the finale has got to be the recording that Hyeon-woo kept for 20 years only to pull it out as a last minute save. And why the heck would he have this piece of dynamite kept in a pot plant rather than a safety deposit box? This kind of deus ex machina is not befitting of a drama brimming with greatness. In one fell swoop it undermines a lot of the good work done earlier. It throws up all kinds of questions that’s again conveniently not addressed by the drama. Why did he record the conversation? How did he even have the presence of mind to do so when he was so distraught? Why did he keep a copy of it if he had already decided to be Soonyang’s lapdog? As… what? Insurance? Potential blackmail material? If so, why didn’t he use it say in Episode 1 against his manager when the man was breathing threats down his neck? If as the recording suggests that he already knew that Jin Do-jun was going to be killed by his uncle, wouldn't he have been a lot more leery or vigilant around the older man? On the day of the accident shouldn't he have taken more precautions? Shouldn't he have recognized the location? The whole thing is nonsensical to say the least. An afterthought. And the kind of thing one would only expect in third rate fanfiction.
If the finale would have us believe that Hyeon-woo took this soul journey just to see justice done for Do-jun and for his atonement then there’s little need to dwell on the financial tit for tat when love for Min-yeong seems to be the final push as to why he decides to surrender the recording that implicates Yong-ki in Do-jun’s untimely passing. Even if Hyeon-woo now has the historical and financial wherewithal downloaded into his head by the Matrix — his “I know kung fu” moment, he barely has the opportunity to strut his stuff as Hyeon-woo.
The so-called “grounded” ending doesn't make sense. It’s not grounded at all. Certainly not in reality. The usual problems arise when writers try and suddenly go “unpredictable” or “subversive”. Or they think it’s somehow clever to throw in a twist at the last minute. And they tend to be very selective about what to be realistic about. It can’t just be one long bad dream or a wake-up call or just his conscience speaking because Hyeon-woo's feelings for Min-yeong are real enough for him to pull the recording out of the hat. Moreover, the fascinating existential question of how much of Jin Do-jun is Yoon Hyeon-woo or vice versa now gets lost in the “it’s all about repentance” conclusion.
All that said, I’m not someone who thinks that the finale invalidates every single thing that happened between Episodes 2 to 15 but the narrative emphasis is rendered somewhat unnecessary in parts. By Episode 12 or even earlier, we are well aware that the company won't survive long in the hands of the family. In fact, unpopular opinion, I know -- instead of wallowing in the family squabbles ad nauseum or the toxic dynamic, the romance should have had a far more expanded role because in the end this is what causes Hyeon-woo to "do the right thing" by Do-jun and Min-yeong. Watching Episodes 2-14 one gets the impression that the romance is relatively unimportant in the overall scheme but then when the finale comes along, it feels like we should have been privy to a lot more between them to get the sense of how much they loved each other to the point that she's wearing black for 20 years in his memory. I don’t say this kind of thing often but in hindsight, Shin Hyun-bin was definitely wasted in this.
This is my problem with K drama endings of late. Introducing new information in the conclusion to supposedly "surprise" the audience is what makes a lot of these shows unsatisfying in the landing. I often wonder what they drinking or smoking at these production meetings that such poorly considered ideas can pass muster.
So what did you think of the ending?