Monday, March 11, 2013

Incarnation of Money: An Update on My Opinion

  Those of you who read my previous entry on Incarnation of Money (link here) may be wondering if my opinion has changed at all. I had a slew of issues with this drama, but there was still something there that made me want to like it. I really really wanted to feel a desire to keep watching. I gave it another week to win me over. 

  While the next 2 episodes didn't alleviate most of my complaints, there was enough to keep me going. And after watching 12 episodes, I can say that I do like this drama. I don't really really like it, but it's definitely growing on me. Somewhere in episode 7 the humor really started to click with me—not that I find all the jokes funny, and I still laugh at things that aren't meant to be funny, but there is more hilarity in each episode. (Who could forget Jae In's drug-induced vision of cops and robbers dancing together?)
  I still have some of the same beefs with this show, and they are a bit distracting. I still find so many of the characters to be boring. All the men, with the exception of Cha Don/Kang Suk and his henchman Yang Goo Shik, seem so much alike. They're all styled the same, they're all greedy, ruthless villains, and none of them really stands out. Even Se Kwang fits in with this crowd, and his only distinguishing trait is the hypocrisy of his entire existence. (This hypocrisy is a leeetle bit more interesting than it was, but still tragically underdeveloped.) 
  Bi Ryung is still screechy and annoying. Her devotion to Se Kwang is completely mystifying to me at this point. I honestly don't know why they even have a "relationship," since they have almost no contact with one another, it seems. I don't even buy that she loves him any more (a reflection both on her acting and the writing, I think).
  The only reason I can tolerate her presence in this drama anymore is for the sake of seeing her bumbling interactions with Jae In and Madame Bok. I seriously love seeing those women take her down a peg (or eight), and her subsequent efforts to worm her way back into their good graces. Any interaction with Madame Bok is especially splendid.
  Now on to the good stuff. Now that Jae In isn't fat, she's starting to be more likable. The stereotypes her character was saddled with as a fat girl* have mostly been abandoned, and although she seems to have had some personality tucks along with her chin tucks, at least her character has become more realistic. I do love that she isn't completely changed, especially when it comes to her love for fatty foods, but I especially love that she's actually shown some personality growth in the process of changing her body. Also, I love how obsessed she is with her new face, staring at herself in the mirror constantly.
  One thing that I find interesting with Jae In's metamorphosis is how much Cha Don/Kang Suk despises her for it. He constantly ribs her for using surgery to change her looks. I feel that although he wasn't attracted to her when she was fat, at least he felt some respect for her. But seeing her so desperate to change herself to please others, he seems to have lost that respect for her. At least temporarily. However, despite his disdain of Jae In's surgeries, he's crazy attracted to Ji Hoo—a very beautiful woman who's had so much work her face doesn't move (although that's not really part of the story, just casting). Ironic, that.

  Speaking of Cha Don/Kang Suk (from here on out, I'll just call him Kang Suk), his character has become more and more interesting. I loved seeing him manipulate and con the gamblers while infiltrating their gambling ring, then turn around and pretend that he was doing it all for justice, and not for the kickbacks. I loved him worshiping his stacks of money in his secret vault, then playing in his fancy imported sports car and posh apartment, only to have everything wrenched from his hands in a fireball set by his own henchman Goo Shik. I loved seeing him manipulate Jae In, as well as their childish bickering, especially when she flipped things around and manipulated him right back out of her bed. 
  But most of all, I love this:
  Whoever convinced Kang Ji Hwan to don drag in order to "infiltrate the sanatorium" is a sheer genius. Especially since it's not just any drag, it's hanbok drag, since he pretends to think he's the Empress of Joseon. (Does that mean she lived 500 years?) Plus, we get so many little moments of him acting demure, imperious, and indignant, as well as embroidering as said Empress. Pwahahahahaha!

  (The one thing that bothered me about the whole undercover bit (and it really bothered me) was Goo Shik acting like a person with mental disabilities. I decided to view his acting as being reflective of the character's view of people with disabilities, and not the writer's/director's/actors'. I think it's the only way I can be okay with it, to be honest.)
  Another great thing about this sequence is the guest appearance of Kim Byung Ok as the nefarious chief of the sanatorium. I loved him in When it's at Night, and he was probably the best character in Fashion King. There's just something awesome about his brand of oiliness when he plays horrible people. Maybe it's just me. Also, how awesomely appropriate is it that he whistles a song from Oliver! while surveying his captives. I guess that makes him Fagin, but a Fagin with a PhD and who eats bugs.
  This also brings me to the music score in Incarnation of Money. The instrumental theme throughout the drama reminds me of the score for one of my favorite BBC productions—Sherlock. Unfortunately, it's not one of the songs on the officially released OST for Incarnation of Money, so I can't find a good link for comparison. However, the Sherlock theme can be heard here.
  In the past few episodes, this show has been doing a good job of building its sense of urgency and tension. Will Kang Suk find his mother in time? Will he break her out of the sanatorium before she dies of pneumonia? Will he be able to withstand the torture and reconditioning Dr. Fagin puts him through? Will they be able to reclaim their money before the year is up and it is claimed by the State? Will Madame Bok be able to convince Jae In to take over the family business before her dementia progresses too far? 
  And yet, with all these things hanging in the balance, they don't typically try to draw things out too terribly long. I mean, it only took a couple episodes for Jae In to be revealed to Kang Suk post-surgery. Also, Kang Suk found out that his mother is his mother so much faster than I expected. I mean, I know it's been a driving factor in the plot so far, but he hasn't really had much time with her. And instead of the family photo being misplaced and stolen and intercepted time after time after time, it really only happened once before Kang Suk saw it and made the connection. This gives me hope that there's enough story and twistiness in the plot to sustain quick (for a kdrama) resolutions to these devices. (Please, Show, keep that up. PLEASE.)
  The final thing I want to address here is Kang Suk's developing character. He was always greedy for money, clever and bold. But as a child, he was also very loving toward his family and Se Kwang, and he was really likable. As an adult, he started off being incredibly immature and pretty obnoxious. I've enjoyed seeing him transition through wanting to promote justice as a prosecutor to using his position to become the Extortion Master, hoarding all his money like his father did before him, to suffering through losing all his assets. His selfishness and egocentric attitude were amusing to watch. 

  But all that was before losing everything and entering the sanatorium. I appreciated his moment of honesty with Jae In, when he drunkenly told her he loves her as a sister, and even thinks of her fondly in that way. (I also loved that Jae In decided to show some pride and stop chasing him around. I feel that this is a huge step for her. Even though she's determined to make him love her, it feels more like she's going to work to be a woman worthy of his love, and not just like she's going to play the inevitable mind games with him. And, let's face it, if she manages to make him chase her, it will be very satisfying.)
  Then there were the moments in the sanatorium when Kang Suk realized how corrupt Dr. Fagin was being in extorting these poor people. And then he realized that he had been no different (except for the whole torture bit, natch) in his own corruption and quest for money. Furthermore, when he realized who his mother was, he seemed to have a major paradigm shift in his worldview. I truly hope that this is the beginning of some major character growth for Kang Suk. I think it would be fascinating to see him using his questionable morals in the pursuit of justice and revenge rather than the pursuit of filthy lucre. 
That's a GIANT needle.

*It's possible that I take these attitudes toward fat people a little too much to heart, but as a fat girl myself, I find them very offensive.

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