In July, tvN thriller Flower of Evil hit the screens. The drama stars Lee Joon-gi and Moon Chae-won as a couple with a horrible secret threatening to destroy their lives. The two have previously worked together in 2017’s Criminal Minds. This time, they come together under the direction of Kim Cheol-kyu, the acclaimed mind behind Mother (2018) and Confession (2019), and script of Yoo Jung-hee, who wrote Naked Fireman (2017).
As most shows that feature the derailment of a marriage, we are introduced to the story through the main couple’s happy marriage. Cha Ji-won (Moon Chae-won) is a detective at the violent crimes unit married to the sensitive metal craftsman Baek Hee-sung (Lee Joon-gi). The two have an adorable daughter called Eun-ha (Jung Seo-yeon) and live a quiet, happy life in Seoul. What immediately stands out about the relationship is the fact that Hee-sung tries very hard to be a perfect husband but seems to be hiding a secret from his wife. Despite being a detective known for only focusing on cold, hard facts, Ji-won hasn’t been unable to crack his deception.
When I started the show, I thought it would focus on Baek Hee-sung’s deception of his wife. And that’s how we begin. But instead of taking a while before hitting us with the cracks in the husband’s perfect façade, the show reveals it in the very first episode itself. We meet Baek Hee-sung’s parents Gong Mi-ja (Nam Gi-ae) and Baek Man-woo (Son Jong-hak) who seem to share a peculiar, transactional relationship with their son. They immediately betray the fact that Baek Hee-sung is not normal, nor is the relationship they share with him.
Baek Hee-sung is a very interesting character. He is set up as someone who cannot feel emotions like a normal human. It is this peculiarity that leads to people around him assuming he is “abnormal.” As a child growing up in a time and place where people did not know terms like anti-social personality disorder to explain away his behavior, he had been subject to shamanic exorcisms as well as bullying by peers.
As an adult determined to live a “normal” life, Hee-sung still deals with childhood trauma and performs emotions performatively for his wife and daughter despite not feeling them. Often, he mirrors his wife’s expressions exactly, as a result always telling her what she needs to hear. He can also be seen frequently watching instruction videos to practice his expressions, as one would prepare for an acting audition.
Ji-won, on the other hand, is absolutely convinced that she knows her husband better than anyone else, a fact that Hee-sung takes advantage of but not in a way that is malicious. Despite the secret brewing in the marital life, Ji-won is an extremely competent detective. While others around her often give in to hunches while pursuing criminals, she focuses on gathering evidence to prove a crime.
At the root of Hee-sung’s deception lies the Yeonju City serial murder case. The killer was a man named Do Man-sik (Choi Byung-mo) who had committed suicide and led the police to discovering the murders he committed of his own townspeople. He had had seven victims, one of whom was never found, and two kids—a boy and a girl. His son, too, had gone absconding after being accused of murder because of his association with his father.
The family at the center of these the horrific murders is shrouded in mystery and judgement. Through this story, the show seems to ask: is psychopathy genetic? Or, can people be blamed by association? There is also reporter Kim Moo-jin (Seo Hyun-woo), who grew up at the site of the serial murders and makes a connection between Hee-sung and the case. His character goes from being convinced that Baek Hee-sung is a killer to helping him uncover the true identity of the real killer.
Right away, the show introduces three interesting arcs: the case of Hee-sung’s false identity, the Yeonju serial murders, and episode-specific cases that Ji-won solves as part of her job that inevitably lead her closer to finding out the truth. I really enjoy the fact that every new case Ji-won takes up in the show reveals her psychology behind trusting her husband but also ends up changes her perception in a way that edges her closer to picking up on her husband’s deception.
Ji-won meets a woman who would rather allow herself to be drugged by a cheating husband to preserve the illusion of a happy marriage; an angel-faced social worker who turns out to be a psychopath killer, and a killer who does not turn out to be who she suspected. So far, she has only trusted what she could confirm with her eyes, but through these cases, she’s being taught that sometimes what you see isn’t the truth either, and I really like this narrative arc because it ties in with her husband’s lies.
One of my favorite arcs in a drama about marriage is when they cast an interesting child actor to play the kid and give them a fully-fleshed, genuine relationship with the parents instead of a filler arc. The relationship between Hee-sung and his daughter Eun-ha forms the heart of the show. Since Ji-won works odd hours, it is Hee-sung cares for Eun-ha, from feeding her to dropping her at school. For all the difficulty he seems to have feeling emotions, he seems genuinely attached to his kid. Curiously, despite spending most of her time with her “abnormal” father, Eun-ha is a bright child and disproves the theory that children inherit their parents’ flaws.
I thought the show would stick to a largely thriller vibe, and it does, but there is a solid melodrama vibe too which took me by surprise. In the initial episodes, I felt that the urgency and suspense that should accompany a story like this was missing. As I watched more, however, both the pace and the thrill came back but in a different way. The show had simply reserved it for a different arc. Rather than Ji-won digging into Hee-sung’s past with the intention of making him pay, we have both Ji-won and Hee-sung dig into his past together with the singular objective of proving his innocence in a world that is too quick to judge him for the actions of his father.
Some, like me, might have begun the show by judging Ji-won for falling prey to deception despite being a detective. But as we trace our steps back to Ji-won and Hee-sung’s love story, the judgement disappears because Ji-won wasn’t fooled by Hee-sung—she simply saw what others didn’t want to see in him. This leads the viewers to question whether Hee-sung really is as abnormal or weird as others have labelled him, or is he is simply different? Has he been deceiving Ji-won or simply trying too hard in his own way for her? I find this dichotomy very refreshing and interesting.
From the very beginning, Hee-sung starts committing minor crimes to keep his wife from finding out his identity. It seems obvious that he’s far from a seasoned and self-assured serial killer. His emotionless persona does lend him a dangerous vibe, but he doesn’t exactly seem capable of killing, as he proves several times during the story. The question is, however, if faced with the choice of losing his family, what lengths will Hee-sung go to? The circumstances that led him to assume the identity of Baek Hee-sung start coming to light. Therein lies another mystery: who exactly is the real Baek Hee-sung, the son of Gong Mi-ja and Baek Man-woo? Where is he? Why did they allow a man to assume the identity of their real son?
About four episodes in, I realized that I had assumed that the story would be about a wife coming to terms with her husband’s betrayal, but actually, the show is trying to flip this narrative. It is instead trying to tell the story of a man with anti-social personality disorder who has been treated like a monster all his life because of his notorious father and his “abnormality.” He gets accused of crimes he didn’t commit and sets out to prove his innocence when he stands to lose his family. This story, instead of proving that love is a tool for deception, actually wants to prove that love can transform people. And I quite like this change of pace!
So far, Baek Hee-sung is only interested in proving his innocence because he does not want to be associated with his father, but it is looking like digging into his own past might become a tool that helps him deal with trauma from childhood. From hallucinating his father to believing he is incapable of love, Hee-sung has quite a journey to undertake. When he reunites with his sister Do Hae-soo (Jang Hee-jin), a whole other side of his personality comes to light and makes it clear that he is capable of transformation. I’m getting very invested in this arc.
For their parts, Moon Chae-won and Lee Joon-gi have done a fine job of making Ji-won and Hee-sung’s dynamic come alive. They have chemistry, and their scenes together with their daughter are the purest in the show. Lee Joon-gi has really nailed the way Hee-sung struggles with emotions and then goes on to perfectly mirror them. He switches easily from a cute to a dangerous vibe. Moon Chae-won, meanwhile, is doing a good job of being both a focused detective and a tortured wife dealing with the aftermath of her husband’s lies. Her character’s love for Hee-sung really shines through, even as she deals with the confusion of reconciling the image of her dedicated husband with that of a killer.
The show’s secondary characters played by Seo Hyun-woo and Jang Hee-jin make a compelling addition to the team. They have their own backstory and are developing an interesting relationship as the show progresses. Nam Gi-ae and Son Jong-hak also fare well at injecting the show with yet another air of mystery through the arc of their son, the real Baek Hee-sung. They, too, are both tortured and dangerous in light of the truth they know. The show has introduced a plot twist with regards to their son, the real Baek Hee-sung, and I’m curious as to how that will play out.
In giving us the backstory of Lee Joon-gi’s character, the show has made it clear how lonely he has been in his life. Plagued by trauma, hallucinations of his father (Choi Byung-mo) looking like the devil, and surrounded by people ready to denounce him as weird while also hurting him for their selfish needs. But in the quest to protect himself and his family, he seems to be gaining friends, starting with his sister and Moo-jin on his side.
In a riveting turn of events, Hee-sung with his team and Ji-won with her police team are gearing up to dig into the exact same case—the Yeonjin city serial murders. It will be interesting to see how these two different sets of people dig into the case with entirely different sets of tools but roughly the same objective—to prove Hee-sung’s innocence. Despite her own feelings being involved, Ji-won is thoroughly dedicated to finding out the truth, and I appreciate that about her character. So far, we have seen love and betrayal in Ji-won and Hee-sung’s relationship. Going ahead, we might get to see some accidental butting of heads as well as inadvertent partnering.
Despite the emotional investment this story has managed to craft, the thriller is not without its loopholes. Some inconsistencies are big enough to jump out: like, why did Hee-sung settle in the same city the real Hee-sung lived in? In the course of his own investigations, why does he keep showing his face to people if he intends to keep up the act? But these inconsistencies are offset by some really good action scenes, cliffhangers, and kissing scenes that together serve to heighten the viewer’s investment in the story and ignore the inconsistencies. And honestly? I think I don’t mind ignoring them because the story is giving me good emotional payoff so far.
In future episodes, I’ll be looking forward to see how the reveal of the serial murder cases is handled. It is, by now, clear that someone is setting up Hee-sung. The odds are already not in his favor, but should his real identity get revealed before he finds out the truth, things will only get more difficult. There is also a plot twist related to the real Baek Hee-sung that will only serve to be an obstacle in Hee-sung’s path. Ji-won, too, it seems is only waiting for this case to be solved to decide how to proceed with the knowledge that her husband is not who he has claimed to be for years. Going ahead, the tension in their relationship will be gripping.
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