A loving husband. A doting father. A…sociopath?
All three describe the main character of Flower of Evil. The drama is a pulse-pounding thriller that aired on tvN from July 29th to September 23rd. It follows a metal craftsman by the name of Baek Hee-sung (played by Lee Joon-gi) and his attempts to hide his dark past from his wife (played by Moon Chae-won).
Did I mention said wife is a detective? No? Well, this’ll be fun. (V – lolol, yes it will be!)
Flower of Evil’s plot puts twisty Auntie Anne’s pretzels to shame! I’ve been watching dramas for so long, I’m good at predicting what happens next, but this one manages to throw a curveball or two.
It establishes early on that Baek Hee-sung is living a lie. He’s affectionate with his wife Cha Ji-won and their daughter Eun-ha, but we’re led to believe it isn’t genuine. He routinely watches videos that teach him how to smile and mimic sadness.
Meanwhile, Cha Ji-won has to deal with his wealthy, disapproving parents. Hee-sung’s father, Baek Man-woo is the director of a prestigious hospital and his mother, Gong Mi-ja runs a pharmacy for fun.
At first I thought this was going to be the typical K-drama scenario of them not liking Ji-won because she doesn’t come from money, but it’s so much deeper than that. They’re cold to her and their adorable granddaughter, because Hee-sung isn’t actually their son. His real name is Do Hyun-soo, and he’s the son of infamous serial killer Do Min-seok.
Do Min-seok committed heinous murders coined the “Yeon-Ju City Murders” by the press. His signature included putting dog collars around his victims’ necks, cutting their Achilles tendons, and removing their thumbnails.
As far as the general public knows, Do Min-seok took his own life. After that Hyun-soo and his older sister Hae-soo were left to bear the hate of their entire village. It’s no surprise when this hate leads to Hyun-soo murdering the village head. Allegedly. He becomes a fugitive, but is only able to assume Baek Hee-sung’s identity after Baek Hee-sung accidentally hits him with his car one rainy night.
The reason for the switch is kept from us viewers for the majority of the drama. All we know is whatever happened that night put the real Baek Hee-sung in a coma for fifteen years. Even though he wasn’t the one who got hit by a car.
As the drama unpacks Do Hyun-soo’s childhood, as well as his journey to becoming a Baek, there are some shocking developments in the present.
Due to a case, Cha Ji-won crosses paths with a reporter named Kim Moo-jin. She compliments him on the articles he’s written about the Yeon-Ju City Murders. When his pen runs out of ink, she offers him a custom one crafted by Hyun-soo (aka Baek Hee-sung). This leads a curious Moo-jin to his metal workshop, and everything unravels pretty quickly.
It turns out Moo-jin is Hyun-soo’s old childhood friend as well as Hae-soo’s ex. Moo-jin recognizes Hyun-soo quickly, and ends up tied up in the shop’s basement following an intense scuffle.
For the next episode, I hold my breath waiting to see what Hyun-soo’s going to do. Moo-jin knows too much, and turned on him and his sister when they needed him the most.
I really didn’t see how Hyun-soo was going to get out of killing an old friend until everything changes because of another murder.
Before Hyun-soo became Hee-sung, he worked at a Chinese restaurant and lived with a co-worker named Nam Soon-kil. Nam Soon-kil is brutally murdered like a Yeon-ju city victim and he leaves a message on Moo-jin’s phone as it’s happening. He claims Hyun-soo was his dad’s accomplice, and when a man in a hooded raincoat enters his restaurant with a knife yells, “Do Hyun-soo is here!”
It’s not long before Cha Ji-won and the rest of the Violent Crimes Unit start investigating and looking for Moo-jin. They want to interview him, because he’s the last person Soon-kil contacted.
This, and an incriminating home video Hyun-soo finds at Moo-jin’s apartment is what causes Hyun-soo to let him go. They form a rocky, but comedic alliance.
Around the same time, Hyun-soo’s sister Do Hae-soo is reintroduced. A woman I thought would be a minor character ends up being pretty important to the plot. It’s revealed that she’s actually the one who killed the village head and a young Hyun-soo took the fall because he was already dubbed a monster.
As the investigation into Nam Soon-kil’s death continues, a million theories ricochet around my head like a ping pong ball. Is it a copycat? Or Do Min-seok’s accomplice? Did he even really commit suicide?
Well, to my surprise we get answers pretty quickly. And I disappoint Sherlock, because I’m totally off base.
On the night Nam Soon-kil was murdered, CCTV picked up the man in the hooded raincoat getting into the back of a taxi. The Violent Crimes Unit tracks down the taxi driver whose name is Park Kyung-choon, but don’t get any new information from questioning him. He seems friendly and clueless, so I don’t trust him, but never did I imagine he’d plant a bug at the police station. And turn out to be the murderer!
What the CCTV didn’t catch was him crawling into the front seat after getting into his own cab, and driving off. How terrifying! And ingenious.
Kyung-choon’s motive for killing Nam Soon-kil is to draw Do Hyun-soo out of hiding. Kyung-choon’s wife, Jung Mi-sook was Do Min-seok’s last victim. The authorities were never able to find her body, so Kyung-choon figures he can torture it out of Hyun-soo since he was most likely his father’s accomplice.
Are Kyung-choon’s methods extreme? Um…yeah. And I’m not someone who generally believes the end justifies the means, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for him on a certain level. To have a loved one murdered, but not get the closure a proper burial with a body would offer must be horrific.
But again, the end doesn’t justify the means and Kyung-choon has now become a murderer himself.
Meanwhile, an old lady back in Do-hyun’s village contacts the police and says she has a current picture of him. It was snapped visiting her granddaughter in Seoul, and he just happens to be in the background with a pregnant Ji-won. Hmmm. I know Seoul isn’t as big as New York, but it’s still a bustling city with millions of people, so this is a bit convenient. But fine. I’ll bite.
Ji-won takes rookie officer Im Ho-joon to go retrieve the picture, and Moo-jin overhears then passes the news along to Hyun-soo. They hop in Moo-jin’s car and also head to the village; speeding and driving through red lights so they can beat the cops.
It’s a recipe for disaster, and that’s exactly what happens.
Moo-jin goes inside the old lady’s house to see if he can convince her to show him the picture. Hyun-soo waits in the car. Unbeknownst to them, Park Kyung-choon’s already in the house. He’s tied up the old lady and knocks Moo-jin out when he rushes in to help. He wants the picture, because he doesn’t know what Hyun-soo looks like. Now that he does, he races out of the house, Hyun-soo sees him and gives chase.
Ji-won arrives in time to see his retreating form and orders him to freeze. Hyun-soo is horrified to be caught by his wife, so he runs anyway and she follows. They end up in an old warehouse and literally start fighting. Hyun-soo can’t believe this is happening— I can’t believe this is happening.
Hyun-soo’s playing defense, because he doesn’t want to hurt his wife, but the physical altercation still leads to heavy tools being knocked off a shelf. They almost fall on Ji-won, but he shields her with his body. Afterwards, he takes the opportunity to escape, but not before dropping the engraved watch she got him for his birthday.
The name Baek Hee-sung is right there, carved into the costly leather strap.
Once she sees it (and Hyun-soo’s phone later on) there’s no denying her mounting suspicions. Her husband is her perp. But she keeps it to herself, because Kyung-choon kidnaps Hyun-soo and his intentions are anything but good.
He wants to know where his wife’s body is buried, which is a huge problem, because Hyun-soo doesn’t know.
It’s a race against the clock, but Ji-won and her collegues manage to find Hyun-soo and save him.
From episode one, Flower of Evil’s plot is intricate and delivers twist after twist without dragging anything out. Some suspense thrillers make the mistake of dragging out the suspense for too long, but this drama strikes a near perfect balance.
There are at least three dramas this year that feature characters with antisocial personality disorder (the real medical term for what the media has popularized as “sociopathy”). They are Born Again, It’s Okay To Not Be Okay, and Flower of Evil. The second and third have better characterization overall.
When it comes to Flower of Evil specifically, Do Hyun-soo is very compelling. On one hand, you have this manipulative son of a serial killer, and on the other you have a man who cares deeply for his wife and daughter, but because of the way he was raised doesn’t realize the emotion is love. Real, honest-to-goodness love.
If Hyun-soo had wanted to give into his instincts, he would’ve certainly had enough excuses. A serial killer dad, exorcism-by-neighbor, and a roommate that tried to kill you could lead anyone down a dark path. But the fact that he just wanted to lead a quiet life is a testament to his personality. Even after marrying Ji-won and having Eun-ha, he could’ve been mentally abusive, but he treated them well.
Now, one could argue Hyun-soo was emotionally abusive to Ji-won since he lied to her about…well…everything, but that would be too deep of a dive down the ethics rabbit hole for this review.
As far as the acting goes, this is my favorite Lee Joon-gi role since Jang Tae-san in Two Weeks.
I also think it’s a career highlight for Moon Chae-won, because playing Ji-won is trickier than it seems. Do I think she should’ve taken some of those red flags Hyun-soo displayed before they started dating seriously? Yup. But to be fair, her dad had just died (or was at least sick) and Hyun-soo was already playing the role of her protector.
The true beauty of Ji-won’s character is she’s a strong career woman who’s also vulnerable. Too many times when a female character is written to be “strong”, she’s given masculine qualities or zero weaknesses. But Ji-won manages to be a smart and assertive detective (I mean, look at the way she dealt with the female sociopath in episode two) while being an emotional woman. Her not immediately turning her husband in after finding out he was wanted for murder is flawed, but realistic. And her shock and anguish felt so real.
When it comes to the supporting characters, they were just as good.
Eun-ha’s adorable! Whenever she’s onscreen, I want to pinch her cheeks. And eat an egg tart.
Moo-jin provides some much needed comedic relief, but isn’t just relegated to that. His relationship with Hae-soo’s a tender one of regret and second chances.
With that said, the Baeks almost stole the show!
Man-woo, Mi-ja, and Hee-sung are bottomless wells of complicated and crazy that I could dissect all day. Particularly Mi-ja and Hee-sung’s Mother/Son dynamic.
Since that relationship ties in with the amazing climax of the drama, I’ll save some of the thoughts I have about their characters for then.
Climax & Resolution
There are a lot of little twists and turns that lead into the climax. I can’t get into all of them, but the major ones are:
- Ji-won and the Violent Crimes Unit find out Do Min-seok’s last victim (aka Park Kyung-choon’s wife) Jung Mi-sook was calling around looking for jobs before she was murdered. One of the employment agencies she contacted turns out to be a front for a human trafficking ring. This ring sold her and other victims to Do Min-seok and his accomplice.
- That accomplice is the real Baek Hee-sung. Do Min-Seok met him at a psychiatric center for kids (ah, the irony) and groomed him to be a methodical serial killer. He turned Hee-sung into what Hyun-soo was too “weak-hearted” to be.
In the present, Hee-sung wakes from his coma, and we’re finally shown what happened the night he hit Hyun-soo with his car. And boy is it wild. Wilder than I imagined. Instead of taking Hyun-soo to the hospital, he takes him home and attempts to bury him in his backyard. Even though Hyun-soo is very much alive.
A few moments before all this, Gong Mi-ja is straightening up Hee-sung’s room. She lifts his mattress only to find a bloody knife, pictures of his victims, and a box filled with thumbnails. In a shocked daze, she takes the knife and wanders into the backyard to see her serial killer son burying a man. She stabs Hee-sung in a moment of desperation, thus beginning his fifteen year coma.
This brings me back to the Baek’s family dynamic, and why it’s so interesting albeit twisted.
When I started Flower of Evil, I hated Mi-ja. I still don’t like her or think she’s a good person, but I can see how her mental state got to where it is and why she was popping pills from her own pharmacy. I can’t imagine finding out my son’s a serial killer only to walk outside and catch him in the act. Then having to deal with the guilt and stress of stabbing him, putting him in a coma, and dealing with a husband who has his own set of sociopathic tendencies. No wonder she’s a wreck! And Nam Gi-ae did a fantastic job portraying how mentally taxing it would be on any parent.
As far as villains go, Baek Hee-sung made a bone-chilling one. He wasn’t even upset that his own mom tried to kill him. He just came out of that coma ready to murder again. I’m telling you, the wonder and wide-eyed enthusiasm he displayed when it came to killing made me squirm.
Kim Ji-hoon played the part a little too well. Him and Jang Young-nam (aka Moon-young’s mom in It’s Okay To Not Be Okay) need to share the Best Villain of 2020 award.
By the last two or three episodes, I think things are winding down, but I’m wrong. Jung Mi-sook isn’t actually dead (so her husband did everything he did for nothing) and is being held hostage by the leader of the human trafficking ring.
Both Hyun-soo and Hee-sung want her, so they’re finally pitted against each other. I’m biting my nails down to the cuticles like Hee-sung, because I’ve been hurt by Korean dramas before. I think I’m in for a sad ending, because character’s like Hyun-soo don’t usually get happy ones. They tend to sacrifice themselves for their loved ones, so they can end the series with full hero status.
And that almost happens when Hee-sung convinces Hyun-soo he killed Ji-won before coming to retrieve Mi-sook.
The night before, he went to Hyun-soo’s house and stabbed Hae-soo, because he thought she was Ji-won.
Hyun-soo shatters at the news and chases Hee-sung (who is no longer laughing) up a steep mountain. Ji-won shows up in time to stop her husband from committing his first murder. I think we’re out of the danger zone, but Hee-sung grabs another officer’s gun and shoots at Ji-won. Hyun-soo takes a bullet in the head for he, and rookie officer Ho-joon shoots Hee-sung, killing him instantly.
Fortunately the final episode doesn’t feature any major characters’ funerals. Hae-soo survived the previous night’s stabbing and Hyun-soo survives the shooting, but gets amnesia which almost feels worse for Ji-won.
I’m a little annoyed, because I can’t stand the amnesia trope and I don’t like when dramas try to cram in a conflict in the final episode, but it’s handled okay. And the drama leaves us with hope that Hyun-soo will recover his memories.
The final shot is him crying and hugging Ji-won and Eun-ha, a family he didn’t think he was worthy of.
This was one of the best drama’s I’ve ever seen. (V – Yes, yes, and yes)
The plot was fresh, and the brisk pacing never gave me a chance to be bored. I loved Hyun-soo and Ji-won’s cat and mouse dynamic, and I’m so glad the screenwriter didn’t try and shove in a love triangle or a love square. The lack of one was so refreshing.
I know I mentioned not liking the amnesia trope, but like any drama fan there are tropes I enjoy. That doesn’t mean I want all of them crammed into one drama. I hope more dramas take note of Flower of Evil and ditch things that would only muddy the story. It would’ve been great if the amnesia was thrown out too, but alas, nothing’s perfect.
At the end of the day, this was an excellent drama and I’d aggressively recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of the suspense genre or just looking for something a little different.
If you’re reading a review with spoilers, chances are you’ve already seen the drama, but if you haven’t, I did leave out a few things, so you’ve got a few surprises in store. (V – This review would be 20,000+ words long if Adri tried to get everything in. This drama had SO MUCH. Flower of Evil is a crazy, pulse-pounding, escapist ride that is definitely (definitely!) worth the watch!)