THE SHORT VERDICT:
Now this is revenge melo done right.
Interesting characters brought to life by excellent actors; a compelling backstory; great pacing; assured handling; immersive, consuming music. All of these elements come together to make Money Flower an addictive, cracktastic journey, from start to finish. Show stays gripping through to its final stretch, and even resolves its revenge story in a satisfying manner. That’s impressive stuff all-around, which makes it easy to forgive Show its few flaws.
Also, Jang Hyuk is Prowling Panther levels of superb in this. Flail.
THE LONG VERDICT:
The big thing that Money Flower has taught me, is never say never.
I used to think that revenge melos were simply not my thing, since I hadn’t liked any of the ones that I’d seen. Invariably, the shows had a tendency to lose steam and logic, especially towards the end. Add on the fact that I generally find revenge a pretty dark and heavy topic that I prefer not to spend my leisure hours immersed in, and it seemed perfectly reasonable to me, that I steer clear of any and all dramas that touted revenge as its main theme.
Given that starting point, it’s all the more startling, that I found myself very quickly and very thoroughly immersed in Money Flower. Essentially, watching this drama felt like watching a very languidly seductive, sensuous dance.
I simply could. not. look. away. Dang.
OST INSTRUMENTALS: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here are this show’s fantastic instrumentals, in case you’d like to listen to them as you read the review.
STUFF I LOVED
1. Overall execution
The thing that stands out most to me, with this show, is just how assured the execution is. Unlike many other dramas that tend to cycle in place in spots, and have filler scenes in spots, Money Flower always felt like it had somewhere concrete to go, and knew exactly how to get there.
I liked that Show starts right in the thick of the action, instead of with the typical childhood backstory that many melos start with, and then takes its time to reveal key pieces of information as the story unfolds.
The pacing of our story feels fast and tight. [SPOILER] For example, we begin episode 3 with Mo Hyun and Boo Cheon (Park Se Young and Jang Seung Jo) meeting by accident in the cafe, spend the majority of our episode watching them dive into the deep end of a romance, and end the episode with Mo Hyun stunned by the revelation of Boo Cheon’s true chaebol identity. [END SPOILER] There generally is very little sense of drag in this drama world, and that’s a good thing.
At the same time, despite the tight pacing, Show has a strikingly unruffled and controlled feel to it. Even when things in our story feel like they are rising up to a crescendo, there is a consistent distinct feeling of languid unhurriedness about Show itself. I liked that a whole lot.
Additionally, I consistently felt like Show was keeping me on my toes, with each cliffhanger. I often was curious to know what happened next, and I often had no idea how Show would resolve its own cliffhanger. [SPOILER] For example, at the end of episode 6, I was curious to know the result of the DNA test, and while I felt like Pil Joo would’ve probably taken care of the matter ahead of time, I just couldn’t for the life of me figure out how. [END SPOILER] That steady feeling that Show was smarter than me, was a really good one. I always felt like Show was taking me on a rollercoaster, and I felt like I could feel secure in Show’s confidence, while I simply enjoyed the thrill of the ride.
One of the most outstanding things to me, in the overall execution, is the use of music in this show. Mad kudos to the music PD, the application of the music is all very deliberate, and very, very savvy. The music – generally not complete songs, but mostly repeated riffs and instrumentals – swirls into the scene at hand, often increasing in tempo and volume, and thus bringing the emotions of the scene to a pin-point pinnacle, both for the characters and the viewers. It’s immersive, dizzying stuff, and really works to suck you in. I loved it.
Consistency & Intensity
With many dramas, the story starts to sag at some point or another. In particular, a high-tension type of story like this usually suffers because the drama is unable to sustain the dramatic tension through to the end. Not so with Money Flower.
One of the things that really impressed me with this show, is how Show maintains – and even increases! – the sense of dramatic tension, as we get into the later stretch. That’s pretty amazing, considering how Show is not short on dramatic tension even in its early episodes. What a treat, to get to Show’s later episodes, and feel like Show is actually becoming more exciting and delicious.
A compellingly dark drama world
Show does an excellent job of creating and fleshing out a twisty, dark drama world where there is dysfunction everywhere you look. What I appreciate, is that Show does this with a fairly restrained hand. Everything is more quietly chilling, than dramatically scary.
[SPOILER] A great example is in episode 14. Everyone scheming to kill everyone comes to a head this episode, with Pil Joo, Mo Hyun and Boo Cheon all in danger by episode’s end. Near the end of the episode, as the music begins to swirl, we see rolling shots of Yoo Cheon and his dad (Kang Sung and Sun Woo Jae Duk), and Mal Ran (Lee Mi Sook), and Grandpa Chairman (Lee Soon Jae), all silently, separately, sitting in the dark, waiting expectantly for news of successful death-causing. It all feels very deliberately and efficiently laid out. These are clearly messed up characters living in a messed up reality, and Show portrays this so well, without having to say very much at all. [END SPOILER]
2. Jang Hyuk as Kang Pil Joo
Jang Hyuk is the reason that I even considered dipping my previously-revenge-melo-burned toes into Money Flower. Many thanks to my dear pal Drama Fan, who took the time and trouble to persuade me that Jang Hyuk is just so magnificent in this, that I really shouldn’t miss out.
For the record, I used to think that Chuno was hands-down Jang Hyuk’s most iconic work (he is so, so breathtaking in Chuno!), and that nothing would even come close, to that level of brilliance, badassery, or sexy. Guess I was wrong, you guys. Coz it’s very possible that Jang Hyuk’s performance in this, actually tops his amazing turn in Chuno.
Jang Hyuk is completely mesmerizing as our protagonist Kang Pil Joo, and I was helpless under Pil Joo’s hypnotizing, restrained, powerful, and sometimes morally ambiguous spell.
Pil Joo the character
As a character, I found Pil Joo endlessly fascinating and completely mesmerizing. It’s thanks in equal part to the writing and to Jang Hyuk’s fantastic performance. Writer-nim created Pil Joo to be an imperfect, yet perfectly captivating character, and Jang Hyuk capably brought out Pil Joo’s various layers and facets. Altogether spellbinding, I say.
Here are some of the things about Pil Joo, that stood out to me.
He has personal power
One of the first things I noticed about Pil Joo, is that he feels powerful. Even though he is widely acknowledged as the Jang family’s dog, he is far more shrewd and resourceful than the people he actually reports to. He is measured, restrained, and calculated. He never seems flustered or rushed; he always looks like he has everything under complete control. There is smolder in his gaze, and he oozes confidence and charisma. Pil Joo often commanded my undivided attention, purely by the strength of his personal magnetism.
[SPOILER] One of the scenes that really stood out to me, is in episode 15, when Pil Joo is in the coma. He’s not powerless, even while he’s asleep. It feels like he’s a sleeping tiger while everyone else feels like headless chickens, without him to direct everything. And then, the moment he awakes, he moves to action; slowly, deliberately, like he’s a prowling panther. It’s mesmerizing just watching him put on his suit to go into battle. [END SPOILER]
He’s shrewd & well-prepared
Very quickly into my watch, it occurred to me that Pil Joo is a strategist; he doesn’t have formal hierarchical power, and bows down to the person whom he has agreed to put on the metaphorical throne, but he is shrewd, uber well-prepared, and completely unruffled and unhurried as he moves people into place – as well as off the board – as needed. He is intimately acquainted not only with the larger picture, but also the intricate details, and he controls it all. Augh. It reminded me of watching Mei Chang Su in action in Nirvana In Fire, and I was fully enthralled.
Consistently, we see that shrewdness unveiled, facet by facet, as Pil Joo demonstrates again and again, how he’s planned ahead and taken care of every single detail, in order to achieve the result that he set out to achieve.
[SPOILER] A great example of Pil Joo’s preparedness, is in episode 18. The moment he realizes that Boo Cheon had done a DNA test on him, he moves first. It’s clearly not the time he’d originally planned to reveal his identity, but he’s shrewd enough to know that he must strike first, and he just goes and does it, without batting an eye. The scene of him putting on the necklace and getting dressed, is so unhurried and calm. He’s completely unruffled and intentional, even though this is a course of action that is being provoked by Boo Cheon. I just can’t help but be impressed. [END SPOILER]
He’s got a lot of heart
As messed up as Pil Joo is, as a result of his extremely dysfunctional childhood and subsequent adult life, and as controlled and smart and shrewd as he is, he also consistently demonstrates that he has a lot of heart.
[SPOILER] We see it in the way he tenderly and wistfully cradles his father’s memorial picture. We see it in the sheen of tears in his eyes, when he’s broken the rib of the man who killed his baby brother. We see it, in the tortured wistful gazes that he keeps wearing, in Mo Hyun’s direction. And we see it, in the way he consistently shows mercy to Seo Won (Han So Hee) and her son, every time Mal Ran instructs him to get rid of the offending mother and child.
One of the moments in our story, when I felt I was truly looking at Pil Joo’s ripped up heart, is in episode 10, when he reacts to the sight of the body of his little brother. The love, regret and sorrow that he feels, is so clear to see. The tears shimmering in his eyes, reflecting the moonlight, look so poetic and so sad. And the cries that Pil Joo lets out, as he holds his brother’s remains, clothed by the coat off his own back, are so mournful, anguished, and heartwrenchingly powerful. [END SPOILER]
At all times, and in all things, Pil Joo shows a great deal of restraint and control. I love how unruffled Pil Joo is; he is the epitome of cool.
[SPOILER] In episode 8, even in the face of discovering that Boo Cheon isn’t actually his blood brother, he manages to keep a fairly unreadable expression, and withdraws to think only for a short while, before being put together enough to face Mal Ran as if nothing happened.
And then in episode 18, when Pil Joo reveals his identity to Chairman Gramps, his conduct and demeanor is impeccable; he’s irreproachably polite, respectful and steady. And the single tear that escapes his eye, as he finishes his first official bow as Cheong A’s eldest grandson, is the only hint that this is a Big Deal, for him. I feel like there is so much emotion that Pil Joo has buried in his heart, that there is a hidden reservoir within, that we can only imagine the depths of. And yet, on the surface, all we can see, is steady decorum. So impressive. [END SPOILER]
He kicks ass
I truly love watching Jang Hyuk unleash his Master Level Fight Skillz, and it pleased me greatly, that we got to see Pil Joo in action, not once, but twice. As always, Jang Hyuk kills it, and Pil Joo’s Cool Quotient got bumped up even more, in my eyes.
[SPOILER] In episode 2, Pil Joo steps in to protect Mo Hyun from the 2 drunk guys, and the way he fights is Freaking Hot. So swift, effortless and matter-of-fact. And all done in a sharp suit too. Swoon. And to have that all juxtaposed immediately with him gently piggybacking her home? Double swoon.
And then, in episode 16, Pil Joo kicks ass again, when he takes down the 4 guys guarding Seo Won. He is so swift, precise and matter-of-fact. I love that he just rolls up a magazine as he saunters slowly into the place, and then just knocks them all out without even breaking a sweat. So dang cool. <3 [END SPOILER]
He plays by his own rules
Perhaps one of the coolest things about Pil Joo, is how he plays by his own rules, even when it means disregarding the etiquette that he is expected to keep.
[SPOILER] There’s a moment in episode 14 that I just love. Yoo Cheon enters Pil Joo’s office, and condescendingly asks Pil Joo for a briefing on what his Plan B is, for Cheong A Tower. Pil Joo looks him in the eye, and simply replies, “I don’t want to.” He doesn’t even try to make excuses or come up with some cover story. He just flat out states, “I don’t want to,” and I love it. [END SPOILER]
Why do we root for Pil Joo? [SPOILERS]
One of the questions one might ask, is why one would root for Pil Joo, considering that he appears to be as scheming, crafty and morally ambiguous as the people in Cheong A that he’s working to take down.
For me personally, I think I root for Pil Joo because he’s on the defensive, while the people in Cheong A are on the offensive. In every good story, a good antagonist always helps, and in this story, the Cheong A people – especially Mal Ran and Chairman Gramps – are very well fleshed-out as antagonists. They were the ones who basically ruined Pil Joo’s life.
If Cheong A had just left him and his brother and mother alone, he wouldn’t be scheming against anyone. It doesn’t make Pil Joo righteous, certainly, and it doesn’t absolve him of the morally shady things he’s done either. But the context creates sympathy for Pil Joo, and I feel for him.
My sympathy for Pil Joo, combined with how distasteful and disgusting I found Chairman Gramps and Mal Ran in their casual murderous decisions, put me firmly on Pil Joo’s side.
3 examples of Jang Hyuk’s amazing performance
One of the things I learned during my watch, is that Jang Hyuk is best appreciated in motion. There were more than several occasions when Jang Hyuk was on my screen, and I thought, “Wow, he’s amazing,” or “Gosh, he’s hot,” and tried to get a screenshot of the awesome. When I paused for the shot, though, I found that mostly, the screenshot just didn’t do him justice. Conclusion: Jang Hyuk is glorious in motion, and you just need to see him in motion, to properly appreciate how fantastic he is.
In this section, I’m gonna highlight a few examples of Jang Hyuk’s amazing acting prowess. Just bear in mind, that these stills don’t even tell half of the story.
1. Emotions surging under his skin
There is a scene in episode 3 that is quite fleeting, but which sticks in my mind for the seriously impressive control Jang Hyuk has, over his microexpressions.
Early one morning, Boo Cheon announces gleefully to Pil Joo, that he plans to sleep with Mo Hyun that night. Pil Joo smiles impassively as he gets into the car, but once the door is shut, his expression contorts with emotion. What’s impressive about this is, it’s not a full-on explosion of emotions; it feels like there is a full tsunami of emotions going on, on the inside, and it’s barely held in by the sheer force of his willpower. That tamped down, barely held-in wave of emotion, that literally strains his features at the seams, is what we see. We literally see those emotions surging under his skin. And then in just a matter of seconds, the moment passes, and Pil Joo’s expression returns to its previously impassive state. Just, masterful.
2. “You’re not wrong.”
In episode 15, Jang Hyuk gives another masterful performance, in the scene where Mo Hyun confronts Pil Joo about his feelings for her.
Pil Joo is all decorum and control on the surface, but there is a subtle sheen of tears in his eyes, that betray the emotions that run beneath. His words are businesslike and distant, but as the moment wears on, the sheen of tears become just that little bit more apparent, and we can just tell, that he isn’t telling the truth when he says that he’s long put aside any feelings that he had for her. So much subtext communicated, with so little overt expression. Impressive indeed.
3. The childlike gaze
One of the things that I found especially affecting, is a particular look that Pil Joo tends to wear, especially when he’s facing Mal Ran. It’s so clear-eyed and innocent, that I feel like I’m looking upon his inner child. I believe that’s exactly what Show is trying to convey; that beneath the shrewd, precise advisor, there is an innocent child. I love that Jang Hyuk is able to express that so effectively, simply through his gaze. Kudos.
3. Lee Mi Sook as Jung Mal Ran
Although I can’t say that Mal Ran is likable as a character, I definitely feel that she is a fascinating one. Lee Mi Sook plays Mal Ran with a gentility, elegance and sophistication that is quite regal, and underneath it, she imbues Mal Ran with a vulnerability that occasionally shows through.
Yes, Mal Ran is an antagonist in our story, and her sense of self-righteousness and vulnerability are completely misplaced. Importantly, though, it’s clear that she believes her own twisted logic, that from beginning to end, she behaved in an appropriate and acceptable manner.
I will admit that I was more fascinated with Mal Ran in the earlier episodes than in the later ones. As I got deeper into the show, I found myself starting to disdain her somewhat.
The reason I disdained Mal Ran
I’d used to think that all the hand-touching, and soft-female-relying-on-strong-man sort of thing that she was doing with Pil Joo was rooted in a true appreciation for him, and a genuine dependency and vulnerability. But, in episode 7, we see that she’s exactly the same with Secretary Oh (Park Jung Hak) – when she wants him to kill people. From the flashback in episode 7, it’s clear that that’s exactly how she used to treat Secretary Oh, when they were younger. He had been to her, all that Pil Joo is to her now.
With this side-by-side comparison, it becomes clear that Mal Ran’s modus operandi is to use her womanly charm to make her male aides feel like they are important to her, and to get them to do what she wants, even when it’s murder. On top of that, it seems that with Pil Joo rising up to be such a strong right-hand man, she’s semi-retired Secretary Oh to a corner, only to be called upon when she needs stuff done that she wants kept from Pil Joo. That feels extra cruel, considering how she’d manipulated Secretary Oh’s feelings.
Therefore, I couldn’t help but snigger a little bit, when Mal Ran rants in episode 17, that there is not one man that she is satisfied with, in Mooshimwon. Snerk. That is so telling, in terms of the kind of person she is, and how she depends on her womanly wiles to get the men around her to do her bidding and help her achieve her goals.
To put it very bluntly, it felt to me like Mal Ran made it a habit to pimp herself out to her male aides to get what she wanted. I just couldn’t respect her for that.
The extent of Mal Ran’s dysfunction
The further I progressed in my watch, the more I saw of the extent of Mal Ran’s personal brand of twisted crazy. Essentially, things got so dysfunctional that it felt surreal.
I feel that the instance that best showcases Mal Ran’s dysfunction, is in episode 20.
We see Mal Ran sobbing on her own in the car, after sending Secretary Oh away of her own volition, and it occurs to me that she doesn’t want him to go; that she has some affection for him, but she is doing it to protect Boo Cheon.
At this point, it also occurred to me that her scheming to place Boo Cheon as Chairman of Cheong A, could be a revenge scheme too, rather than a pure quest for power. Her husband had cheated on her with another woman, and the people of Cheong A group had probably all tried to manipulate her in all their power struggles as well. With Cheong A basically robbing her of any kind of truly happy life, I figured this could be her own way of really sticking it to them – by putting her own son on their throne, a son who doesn’t even have the blood of the Jang family running through his veins.
But then I realized that Mal Ran had actually poisoned Secretary Oh. Poor Secretary Oh, who’d devoted his entire life to her, because he’d been smitten with her. He’d let her seduce him, and then had followed her orders to murder innocent children, even though his conscience would be forever stricken, and then he’d obediently drunk the poisoned coffee, like a lamb being led to slaughter – by the very object of his undying affection. Shudder.
It makes everything even worse, that the “letter” that Mal Ran had placed in Secretary Oh’s breast pocket, which she’d instructed him to read only after he’d left for China, was actually his faked suicide note, designed to be found on his dead body, once the poison had taken effect. Plus, she’d hired assassins to watch over him to finish the deed, in case he didn’t end up drinking the poisoned coffee. Ugh.
And having done all that, she has the gall to sit in her car and cry.
The entire thing is just so sick and so twisted.
4. The dramatic tension between Pil Joo and Mal Ran
The air between Pil Joo and Mal Ran is.. interesting, to say the least. Lee Mi Sook and Jang Hyuk share an electric kind of chemistry, and Show capitalizes on that quite a bit.
Right away in episode 1, we see that officially she is his master, and he, the servant. But, unofficially, he offers her guidance, wisdom and support that one would expect more from an equal than a subordinate. Plus, there are hints of a romantic kind of tension that peek out at times. Like the way he put his jacket on her shoulders the moment he got out of jail, saying to the driver that he shouldn’t have brought her because it was cold. And the way he is allowed near when no one else is, when she is in despair. Also, it shows up in her tone and her manner, like the way she treats him so preciously when he was released from jail.
Show is coy about the true nature of their relationship, but we see with increasing certainty, that the tension between Mal Ran and Pil Joo has many sexual shades to it. Show isn’t ever terribly overt about it, but we get enough clues to arrive at, shall we say, a reasonable conclusion.
The circumstantial evidence
In episode 2, we see that Pil Joo does have a special relationship with Mal Ran; he is the one whom others look to, to comfort her, when something terrible happens. It’s revealed in such an unhurried way too; the way he enters the room deliberately and slowly; the way he wraps his handkerchief around her hand, scratched bloody; the way he slowly takes her into his arms; the way she leans her head on his shoulder and allows the tears to flow, as she holds him back. It feels like a rather torrid, dark pantomime, as the nature of this relationship unfolds, while we finally understand, simultaneously through flashback, the backstory behind how they are related.
In episode 8, we get Show’s most.. definitive piece of evidence, regarding this relationship. We see that Pil Joo has the kind of relationship with Mal Ran where he can open her bedroom door, even when she doesn’t respond to his knocking. That says a lot. Mal Ran wordlessly asking him to stay, also says a lot. The following shot of the door clicking shut, also says a lot. I’m pretty sure that we are supposed to believe that from this point onwards, Mal Ran is getting Pil Joo to share her bed.
The most electrifying scene
The closing scene where Pil Joo reveals his identity to Mal Ran at the end of episode 20 is truly breathtaking. Even though I’d come across a spoiler for how the scene was done, that didn’t prepare me at all, for how absolutely sensual the scene is, and how many conflicting emotions pervade the entire scene.
The scene starts with her happy expectancy, met with his cordial welcome, and that soon evolves into a completely sensual sort of dance, where Pil Joo takes Mal Ran in his arms, and growl-whispers each slow syllable next to her ear, from what feels like the deepest recesses of his throat. He takes his time with each slow caress of his arms, and each languid phrase he exhales from his lips, and the entire vibe is that of a man getting ready to make love to a woman.
All of her senses must feel tantalizingly awakened yet altogether drunk at the same time, from the seduction of his embrace – only for the entire moment to culminate, not in a sensuous kiss, but in the savored moment of his murmured reveal: he is the very Jang Eun Cheon that she’d been trying to get rid of all these years. The scene peaks, with her drowning intoxicated senses struggling to wake up to and comprehend the horror of his words, while he continues to languidly smirk into her eyes.
Oh. My. Word. What a languid yet electric rollercoaster of a scene. It’s completely brilliant, and utterly immersive.
I felt thoroughly vicariously hypnotized by the slow seduction of Pil Joo’s softly lethal confession. Daze.
STUFF THAT WAS NEUTRAL
The muted loveline
The official loveline in this show is between Pil Joo and Mo Hyun, and the treatment of the loveline is decidedly muted. So if you were hoping for an overt romance between the OTP like in Nice Guy, you’d be disappointed. There are many complications that keep Pil Joo and Mo Hyun apart, so much so that it feels wrong to even refer to them as the OTP of this show.
That said, I did feel like Pil Joo and Mo Hyun shared pretty good chemistry, and there were certain scenes where I thought their chemistry was excellent. In the mid-teen episodes in particular, I found the tension between them pretty palpable. There isn’t any hanky-panky going on; all they do is talk when they are alone together. But whenever Boo Cheon or Mal Ran walks in on them, it feels like an intrusion on a private moment.
Here’s the quick spotlight on two instances that felt especially pertinent, in this muted loveline.
The confession scene
The scene of Pil Joo telling Mo Hyun everything in episode 17, is sad. It feels like he’s getting ready to be sent to the slaughterhouse, particularly when he tells her that when she knows everything, she will regret having saved him. That’s harsh, and that shows how Pil Joo feels about himself, deep down.
Mo Hyun then turning the slaps from his face to her own, is an interesting twist that I didn’t expect. It shows the introspective kind of person Mo Hyun is; she looks at herself quite quickly, to see if any blame should be assigned to her own self, instead of instinctively piling all the blame on someone else.
And then, the scene culminates in a single, brief hug. It’s so little, on paper, but in execution, it feels full of dramatic tension and emotional depth. There are so many feelings that run so deep in both of them, and that includes feelings of deep care for each other. The moment that Pil Joo puts his arms around Mo Hyun and holds her, feels momentous.
The goodbye scene
In episode 19, the goodbye scene between Mo Hyun and Pil Joo is so thick with emotion.
Mo Hyun articulating the things that have gone unsaid between them, telling him that no matter how much he denies it, she knows how much he loves her. Her telling him she wanted to tell him to leave with her, but won’t, because she doesn’t understand the extent of his pain. Her walking up to him, and kissing him. Him, just letting her kiss him. And as she turns to walk away, he reaches for her hand, and as she turns back to look at him, he gives her this Look, and all I can see in his face, is the gaze of someone who’s willingly being left behind to die, looking upon the one he loves, who gets to leave him and live.
Augh. So intense.
Lee Soon Jae as Chairman Gramps
Aside from Mal Ran, our story’s other major antagonist is Chairman Gramps, and boy, does he fill the evil quotient well. The deeper I got into show’s run, the more astounded I found myself feeling, at Chairman Gramps’ self-righteous lack of morality.
As much as I hated him, though, I definitely appreciated his presence in our story, because when push came to shove, Chairman Gramps was a worthy adversary for Pil Joo. Pil Joo and Chairman Gramps felt like equally matched opponents, and that made this show’s later episodes more exciting than I’d originally expected – which we’ll talk more about later.
Here are just a handful of times when Chairman Gramps shocked me with his twisted way of thinking.
E12. Chairman Gramps visiting Congressman Na (Park Ji Il) in the hospital, and basically advising him, oh-so-pleasantly, to kill himself.
E18. Chairman Gramps actually disdaining Mal Ran for not being able to make Mo Hyun follow in her father’s footsteps. Meaning that he’s essentially berating Mal Ran for not killing Mo Hyun.
E18. Chairman Gramps’ blatant denial and self-righteousness in the face of the incriminating recording. He behaves as if Mo Hyun is the one at fault, for having the gall to play the recording. Like, how dare she be so rude, to even question his judgment?
E20. Chairman Gramps planning his grandson Boo Cheon’s murder, and then sitting alone in his room looking tearful. Just, wow.
STUFF I DIDN’T LOVE SO MUCH
Park Se Young as Na Mo Hyun
I’m sorry to say that I didn’t love Mo Hyun as a character, and I also felt like Park Se Young’s interpretation and delivery of her character, fell on the bland side of things.
Other than the fact that she’s the woman at the center of the dysfunctional love triangle involving Boo Cheon and Pil Joo, and is the object of Pil Joo’s wonderfully tortured wistful gazes, she wasn’t interesting to me in and of herself. To my eyes, Mo Hyun wore a slightly blank stare quite a lot of the time, and also seemed a little ditzy on occasion. I rationalized that perhaps Park Se Young purposely played Mo Hyun that way in order to create room for character turnaround later.
On the upside, there are moments in Show’s mid-to-late stretch where Mo Hyun showed more steel and therefore seemed more interesting to me. On the downside, it appeared to me that by Show’s end, we’d returned to a version of Mo Hyun that felt almost as bland as when we started out.
In the spirit of remembering the better things, here’s the quick spotlight on the times when Mo Hyun showed some steel.
E13. Mo Hyun uses Boo Cheon’s birth secret against Mal Ran, and Mal Ran gets so angry in response, that she throws a vase in frustration. That was satisfying to watch.
E20. Mo Hyun basically tells Mal Ran to mind her manners, and that she was going ahead with the divorce anyway. That was pretty great.
As much as I enjoyed Money Flower as a whole, Show did have a handful of imperfections, to my eyes.
Certain developments didn’t feel very organic, and occasionally, Show’s logic wasn’t at its strongest, and therefore, at those times, suspension of disbelief was required in somewhat unreasonable servings.
Here’s a quick list, for the record.
E4. The relationship between Mo Hyun and Boo Cheon moves so fast that it’s hard to really believe that it’s real. First, she rejects Boo Cheon because she finds out the truth. But then, when Boo Cheon shows up with the cover story that Pil Joo has prepared, the next thing we know, she’s allowing Boo Cheon to kiss her, and then, immediately, we see her visiting his family, and Chairman Gramps is already pronouncing when the wedding will take place. That whole thing didn’t feel natural to me.
E4. I found it an interesting twist, that it was Pil Joo who had revealed the truth about his and Boo Cheon’s identities to Mo Hyun. However, I find it hard to believe that Pil Joo would have done that, in a so-called moment of weakness. From what we have been shown, Pil Joo seems way more in control of his emotions than that. Even if he had chosen to reveal the truth to her, he would have done so in a much more deliberate manner, and he would’ve had a plan, and he wouldn’t have backed away from it, like he eventually ended up doing, once Mal Ran had reminded him of his past. That plot twist felt out of character for Pil Joo, and felt like it was put in there more for the shock factor.
E4. It’s hard to believe that when young Pil Joo had tried to stab Mal Ran, that she had reacted so calmly to it. Who does that?
E13. It’s a stretch that there are more than 1,000 recordings in Congressman Na’s handphone. How much memory does he have on that thing?
E16. There’s a bit of suspension of disbelief required around Pil Joo managing to move Congressman Na back into his family home without anyone noticing. I mean, he’s a comatose invalid hooked up to a machine and a drip – how did they get him into the house without the neighbors noticing? I rationalize that they must’ve done so in the middle of the night while everyone else was asleep, but still, it’s a stretch.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE
With this drama, I often feel like Show’s got me wound around its little finger, and that Show’s just taking its time, to wind me tighter and tighter around that finger, until I feel just about ready to snap. This entire episode felt like that, which is supremely impressive.
Most shows spend the penultimate episode simply moving things and people into place for the finale, and often, it feels like nothing much happens in the penultimate episode. Not so this penultimate episode. I feel like Show stepped further and faster than I expected it to, and it was such a thrill, to feel like Show is so daring and so sure in its footing, right down to the very last second.
I didn’t expect Mal Ran to use the secret of Boo Cheon’s birth – a card that Pil Joo’s holding against her – to her own advantage. She’s taking a shot to her own leg, in hopes that the shot will take down Pil Joo, while only injuring her. It’s crazy, and brilliant, and messed-up, and completely arresting. I couldn’t look away, this entire episode.
The poisoned champagne fakeout is also brilliant. I mean, trust Pil Joo to actually troll Mal Ran by acting like the poison’s taking effect – when the poison had been swopped out for a harmless substance, long before Mal Ran dropped it into the champagne flutes. Show even takes the chance to showcase Jang Hyuk’s staggering acting chops; not that I needed further convincing. What a great piece of meta, to have Jang Hyuk asking, “How was my acting?” (Your acting’s completely masterful, Jang Hyuk-sshi.)
And then, just as the dramatic tension is broken by the poison fakeout reveal, in comes Boo Cheon aiming his rifle right at Pil Joo, at close range – and he shoots.
Guh. I had no clue how Show was going to resolve this next episode, but I couldn’t wait to find out.
This is quite possibly the most exciting penultimate episode of a drama that I’ve seen, ever.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Let me just preface this section by saying that I had mixed expectations, going into this finale.
On the one hand, I hadn’t ever met an ending to a revenge melo that I actually found satisfying. On the other hand, Money Flower had shown itself to be pretty different from any other revenge melo I’d ever seen. Could this show actually serve up a satisfying conclusion to its story, while still adhering to the (unspoken?) guideline, for Korean broadcasters to uphold values – such as justice, family and forgiveness – traditionally held dear by Korean society?
The short answer is, I think Show did a pretty solid job.
First, let me get the downsides out of the way.
There were several things in this finale that I didn’t like so much.
For example, while the explanation for the fakeout poisoning in the beginning of the episode was good, the entire shooting bit was changed. The same scene at the end of episode 23 had been edited to make us believe that it was Boo Cheon who’d shot the rifle. But in this episode, we see that it was Pil Joo who shot the rifle. That felt a lot less clever than Show had previously shown itself to be, and Show lost some brownie points with me on this one. It didn’t feel clever; rather, it felt like cheating, and I really didn’t like that.
Additionally, I didn’t feel Pil Joo’s stabbing towards the end of the episode was necessary, especially since it changed absolutely nothing about how Pil Joo’s story ended. It feels like Show just put it in there, to scare us a little bit, with the thought that Pil Joo might die, after having come so far in his journey. Add on the fact that we very quickly then see Pil Joo alive and well, and the stabbing felt gratuitous and redundant. That didn’t make Show appear any smarter to me, and in fact, had the opposite effect of losing Show another brownie point in my books.
I personally didn’t like that Mal Ran was written as losing her mind, even though I rationalize that she’s become a prisoner of her own mind, which in itself is a punishment. But, I also wanted Mal Ran to be completely present in her right mind, while she paid the price for all that she’d done. It just seemed like she got off sorta easy, with the fairly cushy hospital room, and the freedom to dress up, do her hair and wear makeup, and role-play at leisure with the male nurse. I’d rather have watched a scene of her in her right mind, sharing a cell with other inmates, having to eat humble pie in front of seasoned cell-mates who didn’t know or care who she was. That would’ve felt more satisfying to me.
On the upside, I like where we leave the loveline between Pil Joo and Mo Hyun. There is no happy-ever-after together for these two, but there is closure, liberation, and a quiet satisfaction, that they each don’t owe the other anything more, and will continue to care for each other – from a respectful distance. Later in the episode, we see that it is Mo Hyun who draws Pil Joo out of seclusion, to interview for a CEO position within the Cheong A group. With this turn of events, signs point to a future where their paths will likely continue to cross.
In my eyes, this is the best outcome I could have asked for, for these two. After all that has happened, it feels inappropriate to paint a picture of togetherness for Pil Joo and Mo Hyun. With this ending, respect is given all around; there isn’t an inappropriate happy ending on our screens, but their feelings for each other are duly acknowledged, and we see that they will likely have opportunities in the future, to continue to watch over each other. That feels sufficient, for me.
Boo Cheon cutting ties with Pil Joo feels appropriate as well; so much has happened between them, that it would be impossible for them to continue being friends or associates. Rather than them becoming enemies, I was content that they chose to become strangers instead.
I was rather sad that Yong Goo (Ryu Dam) cut ties with Pil Joo, though. After all, theirs was a friendship that dates way back, and in effect, feels more like a brotherhood than anything else. I rationalize that perhaps Pil Joo and Yong Goo have been through so much toxic stuff together, that perhaps Yong Goo prefers to just leave those memories behind and start over.
There is deep care and love between these two, though, and I would have much preferred to have seen Pil Joo and Yong Goo leaving together, and becoming hermits together, in Gapyeong. I can imagine these two fishing together, chopping wood together, and just hanging out together. In my head, they’d be chuckling as they ribbed each other, and their eyes would be clear and their shoulders unburdened.
In my eyes, the absolute highlight of the finale, is how Show resolves Pil Joo’s revenge. There is no cop-out; the schemers at Cheong A are brought to justice, and they all serve prison sentences for their crimes. Pil Joo serves time as well, for the crimes that he has committed in service of his revenge. That feels fair and just, and also, it gives Pil Joo a way to pay a price for his misdeeds, and satisfy his conscience.
Just because he is successful at taking down the Jangs, doesn’t mean that the societal value of justice is rejected. It is precisely because Pil Joo pays society’s prescribed price for his wrongs, that he earns a second chance at life in that very same society.
Personally, I kinda love that Pil Joo – or rather Eun Cheon – gets to show the world all over again, just how capable and amazing he is – this time, with revenge removed from the equation, and proudly bearing his own name.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Thoroughly twisted, yet completely captivating. A must-see.
FINAL GRADE: A-
Our very own Lady G created a FMV for this show, hope you guys enjoy: