I am amazed. And I love being amazed by television. Amazed in a good way, of course. I hate being amazed by idiots and stupidity on TV.
But with the SBS drama Five Fingers, it was one of those rare times I was amazed and surprised in the best way possible. I started watching the series for one reason, then another came along. I stuck with the series for a different reason then solidified my interest with another. But after the final episodes, I look back at the series and place it on my all-time Korean drama list for a new, completely different reason.
Those final three or four hours of the series were some of the most unexpected, yet thoroughly fulfilling hours of drama and soap opera I’ve ever seen. And it made me realize just how incredible the 30 episode journey had been.
For One Reason and Another
I was originally interested in Five Fingers only because of Ji Chang Wook who I became a fan of thanks to his dramas Smile, Donghae and Warrior Baek Dong Soo. I also liked Joo Ji Hoon from Antique Bakery and thought it’d be nice to see him on a TV drama.
I was interested, but not completely excited to take on what appeared to be a heavy/Makjang drama. But I started watching anyway and as is many times the case, the young actors who take on the younger versions of the big stars quickly got me invested. Such great young talent in Korea.
Then the sudden T-ara controversy and brouhaha erupted in Korea, forcing Ham Eunjung (who I liked on Dream High 1) to be removed/pulled out/fired/whatever from the series and replaced by Jin Se Yeon. That was incredible news for me since I’d become a big fan of hers as KBS’ triumphant Bridal Mask was about to end.
So Jin Se Yeon along with Ji Chang Wook and Joo Ji Hoon at least guaranteed I’d be watching for a couple of episodes as the kids grew up to become the adults played by those actors. But as the series got started, the story was interesting and addictive. Some typical soapy goodness that didn’t necessarily break any new ground, but was certainly fun to watch.
So I officially added the series to my Viki via Hulu queue, but I wasn’t completely hooked until about halfway through when everything started kicking into high gear.
When Things Got Good
We watched as Chae Si Ra’s Young Rang and Ji Chang Wook’s In Ha did everything they could to backstab Joo Ji Hoon’s Ji Ho and make his life miserable.
That’s definitely by-the-numbers typical soap opera, no matter the country of origin. The poor hero or heroine stepped on and spat at by the always one step ahead villains. Most of the time, that would be incredibly boring and uninteresting. And sometimes, it could be downright atrocious (hello ABS-CBN’s Mara Clara, you unforgettable steaming pile of…).
But Five Fingers was different. While it’d be totally expected to see Ji Ho suffering all the way to the end, we instead saw him fighting back, if even reluctantly. He wasn’t just lying down for them, he stood up to them. They might have been one step ahead, sure. But he still kept pace and got his jabs in here and there.
That made for an interesting and extreme chess match wherein we’d see both sides one-upping each other. Small and short-lived victories kept the series moving while also creating a very fun roller coaster to hop onto.
*Spoilers start now!*
From Simple Makjang to Deep Morality
There were so many different threads and twists during the series that at times it might have seemed overwhelming. But that’s what made it such a ride. Both blindsides as well turns you saw a mile away, Five Fingers never took its foot off the gas pedal.
So much to discuss, but let’s focus on the ending that really made the first 26 episodes worth it. Now, I don’t really care if an ending is happy or sad. I look more for an ending that’s good and makes sense. So it could be a tragic ending or an ending with flowers and butterflies. As long as it fits, makes sense and is done well, then that’s all I ask for.
So, don’t you hate dramas and soaps that end with the painfully naïve hero or heroine always forgiving those who treated him or her like crap the entire series. Those endings where everyone lives happily ever after like none of that hell on earth had just happened a couple of episodes ago?
Five Fingers did that. And didn’t.
Young Rang and In Ha were horrible people. Not only to Ji Ho, but to Da Mi (Jin Se Yeon) and her family as well as all the collateral damage they ran over to fulfill their selfish greed and misplaced anger.
Horrible, nasty people. And what happened? They actually, legally, paid for their crimes. How often does that happen?
But even more, a prison sentence was the least of their punishments. The surprising and I think one of the more incredible aspects of the series is how both Young Rang and In Ha’s internal pain, regret and hate ate away at them. They painfully realized their mistakes, but they were by no means let off easy.
That self-hatred and regret all while Ji Ho himself slowly opened up to them and understood them might have been the worst punishment of all.
Young Rang, of course, had the bigger sins. The biggest being her desire to absolutely destroy Ji Ho whom she had no idea was the baby she’d be mourning then subsequently searching for for almost 30 years. Her becoming blind after saving Ji Ho from a blow to the head probably wasn’t enough to pay him back for what she’d done to him. And she knew it. Even when Ji Ho wanted to help her and be by her side, she knew she didn’t deserve it no matter how much she actually wanted it.
Young Rang knew that she could never live comfortably with Ji Ho, but she accepted that. Probably one of the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve ever seen on a Korean drama had to be Young Rang chasing after Ji Ho. A blind Young Rang wanting to hug her son, maybe tell him she’s sorry or that she loves him. Instead, calling out for him and ending up atop a cliff where she eventually falls off, suffering injuries that would cost her her life.
She wanted not only Ji Ho, but In Ha to live on without her. Her ultimate punishment; living alone after doing so much to damage her two children. While she knew she’d never find true peace, hearing Ji Ho acknowledge her as his mother was enough for her, even more than forgiveness. She was ready to pay the ultimate price, to die and face possibly even more punishment from the heavens and the people she had wronged who had gone ahead of her. As long as she heard that simple “Mom” from a son she’d regretfully tried to push away, she was ready to face anything.
And In Ha. Rejecting the notion that he had a living, breathing Hyung or older brother. Then finally acknowledging him, but so afraid to openly feel that way knowing his share of the crap dealt to Ji Ho.
Those tears when he and Ji Ho say goodbye and that simple “I’m sorry,” with Ji Ho saying as brothers, In Ha needn’t verbalize it; Like Young Rang, it was like an “I don’t deserve your kindness” feeling that would not be easy to go way. It would be difficult for any of them to forget the pain they’d inflicted on each other, and more so In Ha onto Ji Ho. But that scene showed In Ha fully realized his sins and would no doubt owe his life and forever gratitude to his Hyung.
Them Cliffhangers Tho!
But as emotionally draining and fulfilling as the finale was, we were left with several cliffhangers.
Biggest of all, Ji Ho and Da Mi’s relationship. You all expected they’d at least be happy and back together at the end didn’t you? I know I did. But there was something poignant and realistic in that final scene between the two. Da Mi coming to see Ji Ho at the aiport, but leaving without them saying a single word to each other.
What did that mean? Maybe a true, final goodbye? Or a silent “I’ll be waiting.” Whatever it meant, after all they’d been through, it was the most realistic way of ending things… for now. Otherwise, we’d need another 30 episodes to have them work out all those issues. Instead, we’re left to believe either they found a way to move on from each other after Ji Ho’s three years abroad or in the future, they’d find a way back to each other.
Or maybe Da Mi and In Ha ended up together? Who knows. What to make of Ji Ho picking up those flowers for not-young-Da Mi at the end?
And about In Ha. When he and Ji Ho meet at the auditorium for that final showdown/duet, Ji Ho apparently believes his mother is alive. He’s sent grandma and mom an invitation to their performance today. And not only that, but mother had been sending him albums every month while away.
In Ha merely smiles and says they should get wasted tonight because he has something to tell him.
So, In Ha plans to tell Ji Ho their mother died three years ago while they’re both drunk? Or maybe she didn’t die after all and In Ha actually plans to tell Ji Ho he and Da Mi are getting married or something.
While the former is more reasonable to assume, the mere fact that such a doubt exists leaves everything open.
And open endings aren’t always a favorite way to end things for many fans. But with a show like Five Fingers, I couldn’t think of a more satisfying way.
The cast definitely played a huge part in helping to make the show that much more excellent.
You could save the best for last, but why not just start off with the best.
Chae Si Ra was without question the star of the show. She gave an incredible and commanding performance. She made Young Rang a strong, powerful and almost incomprehensible evil bitch. And yet, she somehow makes you feel for her and sympathize with her at the end. Not just pity her, but actually feel the pain and regret Young Rang felt even with her dying breaths. That’s a huge testament to Chae Si Ra’s performance when even you are able to forgive her for her sins.
Joo Ji Hoon and Ji Chang Wook both gave great performances. Both Ji Ho and In Ha became conflicted, pained characters. Both with mistakes, both with good intentions and heart. Of course, In Ha committed far more atrocities. But like Chae Si Ra, Ji Chang Wook’s performance allowed you see In Ha’s change of heart and that lifelong regret he was sure to endure.
Joo Ji Hoon delivered especially since Ji Hos’ character took maybe the wildest swings throughout the series. He experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows and Joo Ji Hoon managed to capture every emotion wonderfully.
Jin Se Yeon’s Da Mi definitely seemed to grow underused in the final episodes, but she still delivered a solid performance. No question, a little bit of Bridal Mask seeped into her performance here, but there is also no question that she is a great young talent deserving of more great roles in the future.
Of the rest of the strong ensemble, Jun Mi Sun and Jung Eun Woo as Da Mi’s aggrieved mother and brother Nam Joo and Woo Jin and Cha Hwa Yun as grandmother, stepmother and later real mother Madame Na are the standouts. Jun Mi Sun and Jung Eun Woo’s characters may have had revenge on the mind for most of the series, but they made you believe and care for their cause. You fully understood their pain, especially at the end when they decide while they can never fully forgive Young Rang, they aren’t monsters either.
Cha Hwa Yun deserves much kudos for being what seemed at first as someone to lighten the mood, but eventually grew into an integral and emotional part of the canvas.
I don’t think this show could have worked as well with anyone else in these roles.
Now, I have no idea what the reaction was to the finale. I intentionally did not scour the internets for what I’m sure are varied and maybe violent reactions so as not to taint my own feelings about it and the series.
I actually don’t even know the reaction to the series as it was running other than upset Eunjung and T-ara fans who thought it would be nice to support their idol by criticizing the show and her replacement Jin Se Yeon.
Five Fingers wasn’t perfect. And of course, perfection does not exist especially in the world of Korean drama. But the series successfully crafted a continuously moving story. It wasn’t afraid to punch their characters in the gut, it didn’t matter if they were the good guys or the bad guys, as long as they got their own swings back as well. You saw characters get knocked to the curb, but never saw them stay down.
You saw characters get what was coming to them. You saw characters get their fair share. [/Sally Brown] Good or bad.
Five Fingers was and is (you can watch the episodes online, legally!) an incredibly affecting and effective drama series. You most definitely feel the drama, you are affected by the emotional roller coaster and you never want to hop off of it.
Not only did the series become a 2012 TV highlight for me, I can confidently say it has become one of my favorite and most fulfilling Korean drama experiences ever.
And yes, I pretty much bawled the entire finale. MaGMCMs all over the place.