A Perfect Love Story : Flower Of Evil / Akui Kkot (악의 꽃) (2020)

I haven’t been so intrigued and emotionally invested in a drama for quite some time, until Flower of Evil came and blew me away. Not aware that the drama is helmed by Kim Chul Gyu; the director behind commendable dramas, such as Emergency Couple (one of my favourite dramas of all time and the first that triggered my K-drama addiction), On The Way to the Airport, Chicago Typewriter and Mother; it was off my radar of the must-watch upcoming dramas.

From the get-go, tension, intensity, and melodramatic feeling have set the tone for the drama. It opens with Cha Ji Won dive in trying to save Baek Hee Seong, her hand-tied-on-the-bottom-of-the-pool husband. Nearing the end of the scene, we hear them converse in the background,

Baek Hee Seong : Should I tell you what kind of a person I am?

Cha Ji Won : I’ll love you even more from this moment on. I’ll be good to you. Then, before you know it, everything will change. In a way that seems unreal.

This short dialogue serves as prologue (and later also the epilogue) and lays the groundwork for the drama’s narrative.

Perfect is the only word that I can think of to describe Flower of Evil. Maybe not perfect perfect, but more like close to perfection. Despite some minor hiccups (and a major one, but we will get to that later), Flower of Evil is a perfect blend of romance, melodrama, and suspense. Playing with contrast elements, Kim Chul Gyu shared, “This drama has a ton of hidden contrasts. Most notably, the contrast between good and bad, lies and truth, love and hate, and though this is a slightly different concept, the contrast between melodrama and thriller. I think the way these conflicting ideas are all in full force creates the tension that becomes the strength that carries the plot.” Mix this blend with tight plots, high tension scenes (be it the action or the drama), and cliffhanger ending in every episode; stitched them together with meticulous editing; then intensify it with hollowing and melodramatic music (thanks to Kim Joon Seok for such beautiful compositions), Flower Of Evil keeps the audience on the edge of their seat throughout the show and leaves them breathless, every time.

Said to be inspired by Charles Baudelaire’s book of poetry called ‘Les Fleurs du mal’ (‘The Flowers of Evil’ in English) in creating the couple’s relationship, screenwriter Yoo Jung Hee thought it was interesting to ask this question: If someone does their absolute best for their partner in order to take their own dark secret to the grave, can you really say that they are living a lie? “I wanted to beef up that story, so I raised the stakes in making the couple a serial killer and detective.” Brilliant!


Baek Hee Seong (Lee Joon Gi) is a man who hides his past and pretends to love his wife, Cha Ji Won (Moon Chae Won). When detective Cha Ji Won begins to suspect that her husband may be a serial killer, the couple is ultimately forced to confront a dark truth they never wanted to face.

Right from the beginning, we learn that Baek Hee Seong is not really Baek Hee Seong. His friend, Kim Moo Jin (Seo Hyun Woo) recognises him as Do Hyun Soo, an old-time friend who is also a murder suspect. Hee Seong has an antisocial personality disorder, which shown in scenes where he learns to mimic facial expressions, something that he is not capable to do naturally. As the story progresses, we slowly learn that all his efforts to connect to other people are all for Cha Ji Won (and later in life, their daughter). She somewhat has become his shield from the ghost of his father, a symbol of the lingering horrifying past. Without him even realising it, Ji Won has become the only person in his life who gives him a sense of security. She is his anchor, later symbolised by their wedding ring, the thing that gives his hand the stability to do his crafting works. She becomes the guardian who fills the empty spot his mother left. Ji Won is also the one that gives and teaches the meanings to feelings his brain cannot compute.

Cha Ji Won’s unwavering love for Baek Hee Seong, on the other hand, is so pure it almost feels naive at times. But being a detective over the years has trained her to only believe in facts, which keeps her grounded and level headed in challenging times and guides her to escape the conflicting feelings. In the end, no matter how big her doubt is, she always chooses to put faith and trust in the good person Do Hyun Soo that she knows.

Do Hyun Soo’s antisocial personality disorder is a clear case from the start, but the drama also portrays an array of other psychological issues and mental health conditions without having to be so in-your-face and to try too hard to be recognised as a psychological drama while in fact it kind of is. Most key characters in this drama, each shows a form of mental health condition. A foot wrong could have made Flower of Evil pretentious, but on the contrary, I would say that this instead enriched each character’s background and lay out the rationale for their actions.

The real Baek Hee Seong (Kim Ji Hoon) and Do Hyun Soo’s father, Do Min Seok (Choi Byung Mo), are psychopathic serial killers. Baek Hee Seong was raised with privilege by toxic parents. His mother, Nam Gi Ja (Nam Gi Ae), easily gets maniacal and constantly anxious; his father, Baek Man Woo (Son Jong Hak) is authoritative. Do Hyun Soo’s older sister, Do Hye Soo (Jang Hee Jin) seems to be depressive and she suffers from anxiety. Both Hye Soo and Hyun Soo might have inherited the conditions from their father, but the flashbacks show how their environment also played a big, if not major, role in nurturing their conditions. Hats off to each and every one of these actors for portraying such difficult characters with layered emotions, especially to Nam Gi Ae, who gave a chilling performance in “Mother” and Jang Hee Jin who also starred in “On The Way to the Airport”. Amidst the intensity of all these characters, the writer slips in comic relief in Kim Moo Jin (Seo Hyun Woo) character, Hyun Soo’s childhood friend and also Hye Soo’s teenage lover.

Do Min Seok (Choi Byung Mo), Baek Hee Seong (Kim Ji Hoon), Do Hye Soo (Jang Hee Jin), Kim Moo Jin (Seo Hyun Woo), Nam Gi Ja (Nam Gi Ae), Baek Man Woo (Son Jong Hak), Lee Woo Cheo (Choi Dae Hoon), Choi Jae-Sub (Choi Young Joon)

Without a doubt, one stood out the most, Lee Joon Gi. He is magnetic. There is not a moment when I am not in awe of his actorship. He injects micro emotions into his stoicism whenever faced with unexpected situations or incomprehensible actions (mostly of Ji Won). Just like his character, Lee Joon Gi meticulously premeditates and calculates his expressions to deliver a smooth transition from being emotionless to eventually bursting out his primeval emotions when the feelings in Do Hyun Soo’s brain start to unlock at his most desperate moments.

Do Hyun Soo/Baek Hee Seong (Lee Joon Gi)

All the emotions he pours into his acting would have not been so impactful had his counterpart’s performance is subpar, which could have been the case for Moon Chae Won. Moon has a tendency to be bland and too melancholic based on her earlier works, but this time, that melancholic persona works to her advantage in portraying someone who loves with an innocent heart. Together, Moon and Lee are beautiful and bewitching.

Cha Ji Won (Moon Chae Won)

One major flaw that taints what could have been an impeccable drama is Baek Hee Seong’s illogical speedy recovery after 15 years of being in comatose. Having said that, it does not ruin everything that has been built up until that moment. It just leaves a slightly bad taste in the mouth.

Kim Chul Gyu takes time to wrap things up in the last episode and weave the thread to create a perfect circle. The intense journey ended with a beautiful bluesy happy ending that leaves us breathless till the end.

Through a series of tumultuous and unfortunate incidents, Cha Ji Won and Baek Hee Seong, later Do Hyun Soo, decide to stand by each other to the end. They have faith and put trust in each other, which triumphs every time doubts creeping in. Above all, Flower of Evil is a love story. A perfect one I must say.

What Makes A Mother? : Mother / Madeo (마더) (2018)

Mother 1

Mother puts women at the centre of its conversation and in the process, the choices they make liberate them from patriarchy construct of female identities without having to demonise men

I almost forgot how fantastic this drama is until I stumbled upon its rerun just recently. Mother is one of a very few dramas/movies that challenges primordial female identity. Based on Japanese drama of the same title, the drama also placed women at the centre of its grand narrative, detaching itself almost entirely from real-life dictating patriarchy.

When Soo Jin (Lee Bo Young), a temporary elementary school teacher, realises that one of her students Hye Na (Heo Yool) is being abused at home by her family, she makes an impulsive decision to rescue Hye Na and in doing so, she decides to become her “mother”.

Not until I explore the works of Hirokazu Koreeda, did I realise the dire situation of child abandonment in Japan. It is the third largest type of child abuse in the country. Police reported record-high 80,104 cases of suspected child abuse across Japan in 2018. While in South Korea, the number reached 10,647 in the first half of 2017.

Koreeda has repeatedly brought these issues to light in some of his works, most notably are Nobody Knows (2004), which is based on a real-life child abandonment known as the “Sugamo child abandonment case” and Shoplifters (2018).



Hirokazu Koreeda’s Nobody Knows (2004) & Shoplifters (2008)

One of Koreeda’s signature themes is his constant questioning of society constructs. “What makes a family?” is a perennial theme that keeps on appearing in most of his works. Mother feels like a derivative or a fragment of that theme, challenging the notion of motherhood.

In unfair competitions of capitalistic society, those considered to be economically less valuable, hence weaker, are the first to be eliminated from the cutthroat competition. When this condition occurs in a patriarchal society, it is women who are likely being the first to be sacrificed, then children. Patriarchal society creates unrealistic demands towards women. Even when married women work in non-domestic workplace, they still are required not only to perform domestic and childcare duties, but also to care for aging relatives.


Mother 5
Shin Ja Young (Go Sung Hee) & Seol Ak (Son Seok Koo)

Shin Ja Young (Go Sung Hee), Hye Na‘s biological mother, is a product of this cruel condition. Unable to stand on her own, she thought she finally found liberation in a man, Seol Ak (Son Seok Koo). She creates an illusion of escaping misery only to find out later that it won’t happen. Trapped between desperation and illusion, Ja Young, along with her abusive boyfriend, abandons Hye Na. Ja Young seems to suffer from post-partum depression and she keeps blaming Hye Na for her miserable life until the end. Rather than creating monsters out of these damaged and deranged parents, Mother also reveals the intertwined social factors behind their abusive actions, though still not justifies them.

(Writer’s note: Though eight years apart since the original version aired, this case bears an eerie resemblance to Ja Young – Hye Na – Seol Ok’s part of the story.)



Soo Jin (Lee Bo Young) & Hye Na (Heo Yool)

Unlike many real-life child abuse and abandonment cases which end in tragedy, Hye Na was quite lucky to be found by Soo Jin, outside in the cold winter night, inside a black garbage bag. From then on, Soo Jin and Hye Na (and consequently people around them) embark on a journey to find a safe haven, and eventually the meaning of “mother” (and family). Soo Jin refuses to be a bystander despite her disinterest in marriage and forming a family of her own (initially), even if that makes her a criminal.

When Soo Jin was asked why she did not turn to the police or the authorities for help, she replied “Hye Na needed immediate protection. And I didn’t want Hye Na to have to explain what happened to her multiple times, to strangers.” This indicates a criticism towards governmental and children related (such as school and welfare centre) institutions’ failure to notice signs of child abuse and negligence in handling child abuse reports which often times lead to horrifying consequences.





Mother puts women at the centre of its conversation and in the process, the choices they make liberate them from patriarchy construct of female identities without having to demonise men. From Soo Jin and Hye Na, to Young Sin (Lee Hye Young) and Nam Hong-Hee (Nam Gi Ae), both are Soo Jin’s mothers, to Hyun Jin (Go Byo Geol), Soo Jin’s sister; each and every one of them takes ownership of their own lives. While men around them; Jae Beom (Lee Jung Yeol), Young Sin’s personal (and family) assistant and Jin Hong (Lee Jae Yoon), a doctor who was initially introduced to Soo Jin as a potential partner; serve as part of the Kang family support system. They are around, help when needed, but never intervened. It is a utopian idea indeed, but probably needed to keep the hope and dream alive.



Hye Na (Heo Yool) & Young Sin (Lee Hye Young)

The show is graced with strong performances from all of its actors, but it is undoubtedly Heo Yool, who was selected among 400 other audition participants, who steals the spotlight as a resilient child fighting life’s cruelty. She displays the psychological impact of a child-abuse victim in an impressive array of emotions.

TV shows sees patriarch in power all the time, but rarely a matriarch in power. Young Sin (Lee Hye Young) is one those very few. She is divorced, then she adopted and raised children on her own. As a star actress who gained fame and fortune on her own, she can afford not to care about society’s opinion and social stigma. Lee Hye Young and Heo Yool show a beautiful and heartwarming relationship between two strangers who decided to become a family.


In a nation where blood ties are presumed to be the base of every nuclear family, much like Kore-eda’s movie, Mother also demonstrates that there are many alternatives to a family (or in this case, mother) and none of them is abnormal as long as there is love and care.


Dissecting Neo-Liberalism – Life / Laipeu (라이프) (2018)

Lee Soo Yeon is back. And she’s back with a bang.

Life - Lee Soo Yeon 2
Writer Lee Soo Yeon

On 2017 Secret Forest’s review, I wrote:

                “I always find the most successful K-dramas (read: satisfying) are the ones that meticulously connect multiple aspects of human lives, where individuals are part of a larger collective, hence our personal problems always intersect with larger and more complex problems within the social system. And this is what sets Secret Forest apart from the surge of legal dramas in 2017.”

Still rings true.

This year, Lee is back with another drama that once again sets hers apart from the others of the same genre. Last year she did law, this year she does medical, but the objects of her interest remain the same. Socio-Politics.

If there is one subject that most medical dramas try to avoid, it has to be the capitalism in health care. In Hollywood, where most of the country’s systems are built on capitalism and liberal values, drama makers take a long detour from going to the roots of health care problems and instead, they choose to present feel-good and inspirational stories that come out from (supposedly) though times, and of course, the no-exit labyrinth of love relations among hospital workers. But so strong is Hollywood’s influence that we also find these patterns elsewhere.

And then Life appears.

With Life, it’s probably safe to say that it has become Lee Soo Yeon’s signature to depict the complexity of society’s intersected problems through non-black-and-white characters. We won’t find doctors with miraculous hands holding a scalpel in the operating room or blood splattering the emergency room. In fact, there are very little medical drama clichés seen in this drama.

For the first time in I can’t remember how long (probably never), we see doctors and medical practitioners portrayed as mere humans. No superheroes with hearts of gold, just human beings whose idealism is often times overpowered by their own ego, ambition and agendas. Lee mocks doctors’ deep-rooted elitism which for the longest time has made them arrogant beings playing demi-God.


Ye Jin Woo (Lee Dong Wook) & Goo Seung Hyo (Jo Seung Woo)

Set in a top university medical centre, Life depicts what seemingly a power struggle between a patient-centred ER doctor and the hospital’s newly-appointed CEO, but as it progresses, the show unveils unequal fights in every level of hospital’s hierarchy. Oppressing from the very top of the hierarchy is the chaebol (a large family-owned business conglomerate), and oppressed on the very bottom is the pariahs, ER personnel. But the real battle here is none other than socialism VS capitalism.

Much like Jung Sung Joo (Heard It Through ‘The Grapevine, Secret Affair, A Wife’s Credentials), the charm of Lee Soo Yeon’s works is her eloquent multilayered narration. She understands the great importance of individual-collective interrelations in dissecting systemic problems within a society. And because of that, her stories always need a troop of actors to portray the complexity. Some of Life’s casts are also part of Secret Forest’s ensemble. In fact, it almost feels like Secret Forest + Prison Playbook + Just Between Lovers big reunion.

Life - Casts

With an impressive assemblage of talented actors, it’s a bit of a let-down to see that the weakest link lies in the performance of the lead actor, Lee Dong Wook, who plays Ye Jin Woo, the ER doctor. Though still considered good compared to his previous works, he’s obviously no comparison to powerhouses such as Jo Seung Woo (Goo Seung Hyo, Sangkook Univerity Hospital’s newly appointed CEO), Lee Kyu Hyung (Ye Sun Woo, Judge of the Health Insurance Evaluation Committee and an orthopedic specialist, who is also Ye Jin Woo‘s brother), Yoo Jae Myung (Joo Kyung Moon, Head of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery), and Jung Moon Sung (Jo Nam Hyung, Chairman of Hwajung Group). Thankfully, he is saved by the immaculate script and great directing.

Jo Seung Woo, Lee Kyu Hyung, Yoo Jae Myung, Jung Moon Sung

With two consecutive outstanding dramas as a start, I can’t wait to see what Lee Soo Yeon has in store.

2017 – A Year in K-Drama


Earlier on, I thought 2017 was all going to be about time travels in the land of K-drama. The year is opened with Tomorrow with You (내일 그대와), then followed by Tunnel (터널), Chicago Typewriter (시카고 타자기), The Best Hit (최고의 한방), My Only Love Song (마이 온리 러브송), Reunited Worlds (다시 만난 세계), Deserving of the Name (명불허전) and Go Back Couple (고백부부), just to name a few.

But halfway to the end of the year, 2017 turned out to be about upholding justice and deconstructing and reconstructing traditional and conservative values. From feminism, gender equality to social justice, many 2017 dramas are offering alternative perspectives to the rather demanding and exhausting widely accepted values. This probably can be seen as a means of escapism from the dreadful reality of Hell Joseon. Strongest Deliveryman in particular talks about escaping this heartbreaking living conditions.

Quoting from Korea Exposé, ”To the South Korean state demanding life, denizens of Hell Joseon answer: “The best thing for a South Korean is never to be born; the second best is to die as soon as possible. For the young South Koreans who have grown to detest their nation, the Republic of Korea — Daehan Min’guk — already ceased to exist some time ago. They now call this land Daehan Mangguk: the Failed State of Korea.”

As alternatives to the cliché love story between a chaebol and a poor girl, this year, K-drama offers love stories between the mediocre in Fight For My Way (, 마이웨이) and the beautiful proletarian love in Just Between Lovers (그냥 사랑하는 사이). In the ultra-competitive dystopian “survival of the fittest” job market and education system where everything wrong about free market (crony) capitalism is amplified to its logical extreme, watching the lives of the working class commoners feels like a relief breath from the suffocating always-on-the-run life.

Age Of Youth 2 (청춘시대 2), Temperature of Love (사랑의 온도) and Because This Is My First Life (이번 생은 처음이라) argue the gender stereotypes and reconstruct conservative family and relationship values. Age Of Youth 2 even brought up issues still considered taboo in South Korea.

I also find a pleasant progress in many of this year’s romantic themed dramas, which is consent. More and more writers seem to emphasise the importance of consent and mutual agreement as K-dramas, especially in the romantic themed ones, are so used to patriarchy, and even worse, misogyny. Man grabbing woman’s hand and drags her around, man forcefully kiss woman where she eventually gives up and falls into his charm after a short resistance are some of the common scenes seen in K-dramas. Romanticising dating violence unfortunately is (unconsciously) widely accepted, that even The Korean Communications Standards Commission (KCSC) ruled out one very problematic scene in Our Gab Soon as portraying dating violence. The scene looks like a rape attempt. Misogynist.

Temperature of Love (사랑의 온도), Because This Is My First Life (이번 생은 처음이라) and again, Just Between Lovers (그냥 사랑하는 사이) came like a fresh breeze, the answers to misogynist dramas, where consent does matter, and men and women are not an entirely different breed, and  women have the initiatives and make the first moves. Without belittling the effort, the offered ideas may look slightly basic or elementary, but it also needs to come into consideration that many things are taken in an extreme level in South Korea, these also include patriarchy and gender biases, and not to be left out, superficiality.

2017 also sees K-drama writers exploring new themes, like sci-fi in Circle, said to be the first in K-drama, followed by Duel; a common theme in movies, but rather rarely seen in K-drama and a prison life in Wise Prison Life / Prison Playbook (which is introduced as “Black is the New Orange” spin-off in Netflix).

If last year tvN and JTBC’s dramas dominated the top list, this year tvN’s sister station, OCN shoots to prominence with its signature crime dramas. OCN even pulled off a hat-trick with Tunnel, Duel and Save Me.

No drama really stands out this year, which makes it more difficult in compiling the list. Having said that, there are so many good, even great, dramas with varied themes that are really worth to watch. So, here are the top 10/11 of 44 dramas I managed to watch in 2017.

Exploring Young Female Adult’s Life – A Work In Progress : Age Of Youth Season 2 / Chungchoonshidae 2 (청춘시대 2) (2017)


Age Of Youth 2 2

Age of Youth is back, but sadly Kang Yi Na (Ryu Hwa Young) has left the house, which is quite a shame because her character stood out the most and she had the most complex problems in the previous installment. She still makes several appearances in the show, but her story is no longer as significant as before.

With Kang Yi Na’s departure, Belle Epoque welcomes a new member of the share house, Jo Eun (Choi A Ra), a tall and quiet girl, the complete opposite of Kang Yi Na. Almost mistaken for a boy, Jo Eun’s presence brings in pseudo-homosexuality topic into the drama, though like most of its Korean drama predecessors, the subject never really came to maturity. The only difference is if in other dramas, most characters are mistakenly perceived as other genders or to have different sexual orientations, thus making the others questioned their own sexual orientations when they found themselves falling for the misunderstood person, in Age Of Youth 2, Jo Eun and her friend, Ahn Ye Ji (Shin Se Hwi) are depicted as having an ambiguous same-sex relationship where the line between romance and friendship was rather blurred. At least at first.

Faithful to exploring the lives of female young adults, writer Park Yeon Sun is consistent with her stand on feminism, gender equality and sexuality. All subjects are still conveyed in light and heartwarming everyday life stories, blending young adult’s banalities with the more serious issues, from first loves, break ups, family problems, friendships, platonic relationships to overcoming post sexual harassment trauma. A transition from teenage life to adulthood.

The show is definitely not impeccable. There are flaws and illogical plots here and there, but even so, the show still manages to deliver its solid standpoints without losing the fun, warmth and sincerity.