After the amaztastic Episode 12 this past weekend, I couldn’t push this Intro off any longer. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you *drumroll* the fantabulous Incarnation of Money!
SBS weekend miniseries Incarnation of Money has it all: a fabulous cast, a tightly written story, excellent directing and editing, and some seriously side-splitting comedy to boot. Money was put on my Watch List initially because of Kang Ji-hwan, and I looked forward to the PD+writers team behind History of the Salaryman to work magic once again. Let’s just say that my trust has been rewarded quite handsomely.
It isn’t often that expectations are met, much less exceeded, in Dramaland. Sometimes, maginormous talent on the acting front is blown to smithereens by a poorly written story and atrocious editing. Yeah, The Great Seer, I’m talkin’ to you. Other times, what starts out wonderfully nosedives into crazyland. All that Glitters, that’s you. (I still love you, though.) In yet more instances, star power that sorely lacks acting prowess creates quite an… interesting watch. Sorry, You’ve Fallen for Me – cute fluff just didn’t cut it. And then, we have cases where we get it aaaall in one big giant present: Time Slip Dr. Jin. You ain’t never gonna live that one down.
One of the reasons I appreciated King of Dramas was its comedic element, and man oh man does Money do a number on that count. [[ SPOILER ALERT: Seriously, I CRACKED UP in Episode 3 when the doctor calmly said that Lee Kang-seok (Park Ji-bin, later Kang Ji-hwan) became a genius as “a side effect of surgery.” LOL! END SPOILER. ]] The first two or so episodes were heavy on the drama and a bit trashy, to be honest. A lot of critics were concerned the show was going down the road of makjang-land, which calls for an interjection here. Critics and netizens always complain about the horrors of makjang being employed in dramas, but they all eat it up like a decadent chocolate mousse cake. Case in point: Hundred Years’ Inheritance, which is beating Money each week in the ratings department. But I digress. Money certainly ain’t cheap-o (har har) makjang. It may have started out trashy, but man is it some quality stuff. Now, this ain’t no Tree with Deep Roots, but its dark humor, intelligence, and cleverness is certainly deserving of high praise.
I normally would not hesitate to give spoilers, but Money really works because of its story and how it is told. But I hafta haaafta mention this one, and it doesn’t really give away much, so just roll with the punches. Or skip down ahead and come back to this later after you’ve marathoned the show. [[ SPOILER ALERT: In Episode 12, our hero Lee Cha-don (aka Lee Kang-seok, played by Kang Ji-hwan) pretends to be a loony in order to get into a convalescent home suspected of doin’ some shady business. He dons a woman’s white hanbok and wig (white was traditionally worn in mourning or when being sent into exile, for example), and he pins on a strip of cloth declaring he is the queen of Joseon (the old name of Korea under the Lee dynasty). As he strolls down the street, the beautiful voice of Sumi Jo swells dramatically – it’s the famous “If I Leave” (나 가거든), the theme song of 2001 drama Empress Myeong-seong: The Lost Empire (명성황후). LOL!
A little background: Empress Myeong-seong is considered the last empress of Korea, and her tragic story has been portrayed in various dramas and movies. She was an intelligent and forward-thinking woman, much to the disgruntlement of many in the traditional patriarchal Joseon society, and she strongly opposed the Japanese, who were beginning to exert great power over Joseon. Her refusal to bow to the Japanese’s demands resulted in her assassination. One of the famous quotes portrayed in films/novels is her stout, “I am the queen of Joseon.” The term “queen” is actually “gook-mo” which means mother of a country. Her love for her people, and her refusal to bow to pressure – even unto death – is a story for the centuries.
Here’s the amazing music video for “If I Leave,” which borrows some actors from Empress Myeong-seong: The Lost Empire but should be viewed as a separate entity. [Credit to uploader] The famous line is at 8:40, when the head assassin (played by Heo Joon-ho) asks which of the women is the empress. The ladies in waiting had dressed the queen like themselves in an attempt to protect her, but Empress Myeong-seong, unwilling to cower before the ruthless assassins, stands and declares, “I am the queen of Joseon!” Gah, I’m getting chills just watching this again.
But back to Incarnation of Money. Lee Cha-don hilariously declares himself Joseon’s queen, and the dramatic use of “If I Leave” in those zany moments is a perfect example of just how amazing this production team behind Money is. Cha-don never says he is Empress Myeong-seong, but we all know just who he claims to be. His speech is imperious, and he even manages to acquire a sang-goong (lady in waiting) inside the convalescent home. LOLOL!! It’s the little touches like these that really allow Money to shine. END SPOILER. ]]
The cast is stock-piled with amazing actors and actresses, but even among them, Kang Ji-hwan stands out. I’ve loved him since his first lead role in Be Strong Geum-soon, and he’s had his fair share of ups and downs both on screen and in his personal life. But no one can deny that he is an actor, through and through. His range is just amazing. Most know he has comedic chops: take Level 7 Civil Servant and Runway Cop (aka Detective Cha), for example. But many forget just how amazing he is on the other end of the scale. He was so intensely tortured and deeply intimate in the weepfest that was 90 Days: Time to Love, and he easily flew from one end of the scale to the other in Capital Scandal and Hong Gil Dong. Here, in Incarnation of Money, he shows us once again why I believe he is truly is one of the best actors of this age.
As mentioned above, I don’t want to give away anything that will take away from the viewing experience. So I will just end with my unreserved recommendation of this fantastic drama. Remember, the first 2 episodes are essential for set-up, but they aren’t wholly reflective of the rest of the series. So stick it through the first couple hours and settle down for a fantABulous ride. After all, you can never go wrong with Kim Soo-mi.