Makjang. The term used for Korean melodramas.
SBS’ newest weekend drama Five Fingers starts out being the best example of makjang you could ever see. And that’s definitely not a bad thing.
A Quick and Soapy Start
In typical melodramatic fashion, we are introduced to the two sons of Yoo Man Se, In Ah and Ji Ho. In Ah is his son with wife Young Rang and they live with Man Se’s mother on a sprawling estate. He is a talented young pianist which fits with the family instrument making conglomerate. Ji Ho, Man Se’s illegitimate son, was raised by his grandmother on a provincial island. After a reckless driver kills his grandmother during a rainstorm, Man Se fetches Ji Ho and brings him home.
In Ah isn’t too happy about it, but Young Rang seems to accept and welcome Ji Ho with open arms even though Man Se and Young Rang are pretty much in a loveless marriage. The promiscuous Man Se sleeps around, in his mind, as revenge for Young Rang being hung up on a former love, which she denies.
In Ah and Ji Ho’s relationship is tumultuous at best, with Ji Ho trying what he can to be the hyung to his new younger brother. It doesn’t help when Ji Ho’s talent and gift of perfect pitch is discovered either, one upping In Ah. But just as their relationship seems to be heading in the right direction, a fire engulfs their mansion. Perfect for Young Rang who has just accidentally killed her husband after a fight over who’ll inherit the kingdom. Young Rang barricades her husband in the study to let him burn and carries who she thinks is her son outside to safety. Turns out it’s Ji Ho, the son she’d easily leave in the fire if she could.
In Ah, now trapped inside, is saved from falling rafters by Soo Pyo, a deaf man who sells pancakes nearby and a friend of now dementia-suffering grandmother, whom she begs for help from. Soo Pyo dies from the burns, leaving behind a wife, son, and daughter Da Mi whom both Ji Ho and In Ah have coincidentally fallen in love with. Young Rang then frames Da Mi’s father for Man Se’s death and the family is chased away from their home.
Meanwhile, In Ah’s burns result in the loss of feeling in his right pinky (not good for a pianist of course). Coupled with an overwhelming feeling that Ji Ho’s replacing him in every aspect of his life, not the least of which the fact that his mother saved Ji Ho instead of him, In Ah threatens to jump from the hospital balcony. Ji Ho desperately tries to save him and we fast forward 20 years later.
Casting Always Helps
You can’t get any more Makjang than that. The first four episodes were deliciously soapy, fully embracing the overdramatic theatrics one would expect from such a show. It was a fun and exciting beginning.
But by episode 5, things calm down as our three leads become adults and the real intrigue begins, maybe making things a little less fun, but still interesting with episodes 7 and 8 starting the shocking twists and turns.
And that’s thanks to the strength of the cast. Jin Se Yeon, fresh off of her breakout role in Bridal Mask, plays a considerably less kick ass heroine in Hong Da Mi, but still with a fire and confidence that makes her a rootable leading lady. The injustice thrust onto her family has made her a hard-working young woman, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to have it easy. Her own musical talent and her dreams to maybe making it one day as a pianist add another layer to her character.
Ji Chang Wook goes from tortured hero (Smile, Donghae), action star (Warrior Baek Dong Soo) and romantic lead (Bachelor’s Vegetable Store) to his first villain role. In Ah is bitter at first, broken and depressed from the events of his childhood. Now, he has a renewed interest in rising to the top, hoping to unseat his older half-brother as their sole heir. But he also has a soft side for Da Mi whom, at first, he has no idea harbors longing feelings for her fleeting childhood friend in Ji Ho. His character seems to be the most interesting as he hasn’t yet delved into the depths his mother has leaped into, but he is definitely not the gallant hero either.
Joo Ji Hoon, in his first drama role after military service, has so far been given standard material to work with as Ji Ho. He’s the nice guy, hard working and talented. Ji Ho is passionate about his music, but still believes Young Rang is the loving mother who welcomed him with open arms (and saved his life). So when he learns that’s all been a lie, it’ll be interesting to see how he responds. That’s what I’m looking forward to seeing from him and knowing Joo Ji Hoon is more than capable in handling good material.
But it’s Chae Si Ra as Young Rang that really stands out. She reminds me a lot of Jeon In Hwa in Baker King, Kim Tak Goo. Both playing cold, calculating, self-serving matriarchs willing to do anything for their biological sons. (Now that I think of it, the two dramas share standard similarities.) Young Rang will do anything and everything. We get hints that she’s had her own tragic life before marrying into money, but that seems so distant now. She’s unrepentant, at one point declaring that she isn’t at all afraid of facing the devil when her time comes. A villain written like this, strong but with relative depth, it helps make the heroes and heroines that much more rootable.
And speaking of Baker King, it is great to see Jun Mi Sun as Da Mi’s mother. And Jung Eun Woo (Smile, Donghae, Women of the Sun) rounds out the main cast as Da Mi’s older brother with revenge on his mind as well, both intent on clearing Soo Pyo’s name.
Five Fingers has so far been good ol’ soapy drama. I don’t expect it to break any new ground and that’s perfectly fine. I merely expect it to be the kind of show that takes you on a roller coaster of high emotion and drama. But if it manages anything more, then bring it on. It is off to a strong start. While 50+ episode weekend dramas can get tedious, I hope the rumored 30 episode run is more likely because I think that’s a fine number to really churn out a worthwhile series here.