Genius musicians involved in piano battles, company tussles, revenge and murder. But “Five Fingers” is more hair-pulling frustration than nail-biting excitement.
Genre: Revenge, melodrama, family, romance
Synopsis: Chae Yeong Ran (Chae Si Ra) is the wife of a rich man Yoo Man Se (Jo Min Ki), who is the owner of Boosung, a company that manufactures pianos. Yeong Ran seems like a dutiful wife but bears resentment towards her husband and his mother. One day, her husband brings home a boy, Yoo Ji Ho (later played by Joo Ji Hoon), whom he claims to be his illegitimate son and is also a musical prodigy. Yeong Ran’s son, Yoo In Ha (later played by Ji Chang Wook), shows immediate dislike and jealousy towards his talented step-brother. One day, Yeong Ran accidentally kills her husband and she lives her life trying to cover up her crime. Yeong Ran and In Ha persistently try to oust Ji Ho from the family to protect their share of the inheritance and to be the best pianist in the country. Ji Ho then decides to take revenge…
This was one frustrating show that took me not one, not two, but THREE tries to complete the series. If not for Ji Chang Wook, no way would I even be watching this drama. I had started watching late last year, but gave up after completing the childhood part of the story in episode 4 (yes, I know, it doesn’t make sense at all to give up at the moment when Ji Chang Wook finally appeared). Sometime later, I decided to continue and attempted episode 5, then gave up again. It wasn’t until half a year later that I finally decided to pick this up again and finish watching it.
The main reason why this show was such a torture to watch is the heavy makjang nature of the story, and the plodding storyline. There was a lot of angst and hatred in the story and few light moments. Perhaps, the romance and love triangle between the two jealous brothers and the girl Dal Mi (played by Jin Se Yeon) were suppose to contribute to the latter, but the romance was more yawn than sizzle. One can fast forward or take convenient toilet breaks during the romance scenes and you still won’t be missing out much. I think this drama’s strength lies in the revenge and conflict between the characters, so I wish the writers had cut down on the romance and focus on those instead. The drama could also be tightened and cut down to 20 or 25 episodes (this drama has 30 episodes in total) by removing all the unnecessary scenes at the restaurant and Dal Mi’s apparel shop, which were obviously meant as product placement for the show’s sponsors Black Smith and Millet respectively. The first half of the drama was unbearably draggy, and it only became more interesting for me from episode 15 onwards. It actually took the writers a total of 18 episodes to finally get the revenge plot started on full gear when Ji Ho finally decided he was going to fight back.
To give the show some credit, the second half of the series was way more exciting and was filled with some huge, unexpected twists. This is when your perseverance pays off. But I would stop short at saying the twists were good. The plot twists were indeed unexpected and exciting, but could also be considered far-fetched, so it all depends on what is your idea of a “good” plot twist. Some of the situations were wrapped up a bit too clumsily and conveniently without a logical explanation, and some characters would also disappear midway for many episodes or even for good, with just a brief one-liner excuse to explain the disappearance. For instance, both brothers were initially fighting so hard to be the successor of the esteemed Professor Ha, but after this story arc was over, he never appeared again. [Spoiler!] The dramatic opening scene in the first episode also turned out to be a cop-out, which would surely leave some viewers feeling cheated.
One of the show’s saving grace would be the stellar acting by most of the cast, especially the three main leads. Veteran actress Chae Si Ra totally owned the show as the two-faced Chae Young Ran. Her character underwent many changes, from an obedient, dutiful wife and daughter-in-law to a shrewd, confident and powerful business woman, before finally being reduced to a helpless, broken woman filled with regrets. Yet, no matter how vicious she was, she was still a woman who yearned to be loved by someone, and her love for her son was also unconditional. Unfortunately, her desire to protect and love her children was what hurt and destroyed them instead. To me, she was the true star of the show, and she did a great job at making the viewers sympathise her despite her sins. To this, I must applaud the writer for daring to write a story centred around a lead who was so flawed, effectively deviating from the typical heroic main lead.
Joo Ji Hoon and Ji Chang Wook also did a great job in their respective roles. This is not unfamiliar territory for Joo Ji Hoon who had previously starred in a revenge drama “The Devil”. While he was restricted by his characters’ stiff personality in his previous dramas, “Five Fingers” gave him the opportunity to showcase a much wider range of acting and he delivered. I’m now seeing Joo Ji Hoon in a new light, especially after seeing the witty side of him in a recent Running Man episode (ah, I’m digressing). This would be the first time that Ji Chang Wook is playing a villain in a drama, a stark contrast from his usual sunny good-boy roles. Frankly, Ji Chang Wook’s acting in the beginning was convincing as a spoilt, annoying, jealous, jerk-ass brother with an inferiority complex (lol, I really didn’t like his character in the beginning), but it was nothing extraordinary that other actors would not be able to pull off. It was only in episode 17, when the writers finally decided to take his character further to the dark side and turn him into the “devil’s child”, that he really shone and showed his full acting prowess. I can easily point out a few memorable scenes in the second half where he gave moving and impressive performances, but then, I will be revealing too many spoilers right?
Besides the acting, the show also scored with its grand set pieces and costumes, and most of all, the music. This being a drama about genius musicians, it is great that the drama actually had beautiful instrumental pieces as part of the OST. Despite not being professional pianists, both lead actors also managed to look the part when playing the difficult piano pieces. However, having a drama centred on music could have made the story less relatable to the audience. Or at least, that was how I felt. Since I have no music background, watching rich, genius pianists talk about the art of playing the piano and the technicalities of manufacturing grand pianos was an eye-opener at first, but after a while, none of it really mattered to me any more since I wouldn’t be able to understand or appreciate anyway. In fact, the art of music eventually took a back seat in the second half of the drama as the story shifted to revenge and business dealings instead. By the end of the drama, I think what the writers really wanted to touch on in the drama was not the music, but the unconditional love of a mother. I find the show’s message somewhat similar to that of “Empress Ki”, also another Ji Chang Wook drama. Although their settings are very much different, both dramas essentially convey the same message — 1) In your quest for power, you may end up losing everything instead, and 2) Confess your love to your loved ones before it is too late. The difference then lies in the kind of love being portrayed in the drama. While “Empress Ki” was about a love between man and woman, “Five Fingers” was clearly about a mother’s love. A love that is unique and innate to every mother, as shown not only in Chae Young Ran’s destructive love for her son, but also her strained but unbreakable relationship with her stepmother and mother-in-law. Although there were deep resentment and misunderstandings between each mother and child, blood still proved to be thicker than water. They did love each other but were unable to express it until the last moment.
For someone like me who doesn’t like makjang, having to plough through a plodding 30-episode makjang series was sheer torture. Would have been much better if it was shorter. A seemingly far-fetched storyline, unnecessary scenes and a lacklustre romance also make this a difficult watch. The show is barely saved by the stellar acting and music score. The second half is much more exciting, but getting past the first half is a test of your perseverance.