The Joker to my Harley Quinn

Korean dramas have a skill in portraying psychopaths in the most charismatic manner. They have the tendency to make even the most lunatic sociopath/psychopath/mentally unstable/extremely dangerous person for the society into an inscrutable character that questions my own individuality if there indeed resides a psychopath inside me. There should be. After all, seeing so many mesmerizing maniacs lingering around as central characters these days, I’ve come to empathize with Harley Quinn – a mad man’s lover. But what exactly triggered my obsession towards these terrifyingly enigmatic characters? Well, long before, Remember’s Nam Gyu Man (Namgoong Min), Voice’s Mo Tae Gu (Kim Jae Wook) and Gap Dong’s Ryu Tae Oh (Lee Joon) ever existed, I had come across Chae Do Woo of A Man’s Story. Played by the impenetrable Kim Kang Woo, his portrayal of an emotionless psychopath left an impressive mark in me after which I could never see any other lunatics with the same outlook ever again.

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Aired in 2009, A Man’s Story (Also known as The Slingshot) is about a man – Kim Shin (Park Yong Ha) – who looses everything precious to him in an instant and is convicted for a crime he didn’t commit. He then formulates a scam for vengeance and go against the corporate head of a big conglomerate, Chae Do Woo. Through his battle, he befriends many who helps in getting his vengeance while loosing few, his lover of 7 years to name one. Seo Kyung Ah (Park Shi Yeon), ends up leaving Shin and marrying his nemesis instead, triggering to go against this psychopath with even more vehemence. Despite a low ratings, exemplary performances by the lead roles along with a fast pacing story written by the Sandglass fame Song Ji Na, this drama went ahead to get the Best Drama Series in the 2009 Seoul International Drama Awards.

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Without any doubts this drama was one of the most cleverly written series that I have come across. The world of corporate welfare isn’t an easy subject to understand, especially for someone as me who have the least knowledge in terms of market shares and taxations. However, this drama made it interesting. The swindle on business shares and the fight to defeat one another was an enticing piece of work done by the writer and till this day, has one of he few justified endings in many Korean dramas that I have watched. But in all fairness, it was the incredible Chae Do Woo that had me hooked throughout the 20 episodes of fascinating entertainment.

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In this tale of Evil vs Good, Chae Do Woo is pure evil. An intelligent sadist who could read you through like a book with just a glance. Psychotic by birth, he has no ability to feel emotions. And even if he does, it is not how the rest of the world would describe their feelings. His idea of humane feelings have a different definition in his dictionaries that for any other normal being would be categorized as demented. This might’ve been heightened by an incident when he euthanized his mother from her terminal disease, scaring his father and forever distancing him from any affection. What he believed was giving his mother freedom from her prolonged suffering, but what the rest of the world saw was a sinful act of a nefarious boy. With a deranged side of him that would go to any extremes to gain what he desired, there was no manipulations or heinous act that would be morally wrong for him. And what he desired was to build a city, a kingdom, an empire of his own with only the best of the best people living there, without pain and suffering. The goal itself wasn’t vice, but the path he chose, from destroying mediocre businesses to a coup against his own father, that would be unethical, well to us. For Chae Do Woo, that was just something that had to be done; a few sacrifices for the better tomorrow. This was his concrete belief and nothing could penetrate inside this conviction.

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What really wavers this motionless man, that might trigger a little of emotion in him and perhaps makes him a bit humane is Chae Eun Soo (Han Yeo Woon), his younger sister and the person for whom he wants to build the empire. Having seen his father exploit his sister for higher connections among the wealthy, Do Woo wanted to create a world where he would be the most powerful and his sister far from the suppressions of their father. But Eun Soo, unlike her brother was an epitome of benevolence as she had spent her life consoling and apologizing all who had been hurt by her powerful family members. She was calm, gentle and compassionate and among every vengeance filled characters in this series, she was perhaps the only one who had nothing to do with hatred or success. All she wanted, was to live with her family, with or without the money.

“Chae Do Woo, if that person is to listen to anyone, then it is only you. If that person is wavering, hurting or upset is all because of you. I knew it just by standing aside, how can you not know?”

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Do Woo has deep affection for his sister that fluctuates from sibling attachment to an infatuation for a lover. This might have been a bit inappropriate back then when incest was something so uncomfortable subject to talk about, before the Lannister twins ever existed in the television world. But before labelling Do Woo’s devotion for Eun Soo as incest, one should remember that Do Woo wasn’t sane. He lacked emotions and after loosing his mother, neglected by his father, his sister was the only one he could run to for any vulnerability. The kind-hearted Eun Soo became the caring father he was abandoned from, a nurturing mother he lost, a doting sister and the only living being he loved. She was just everything and the only thing for him. This is why among the numerous times he maneuvered people around him, Eun Soo was left untarnished. Although there had been few moments in the show where it seemed that Do Woo’s affections were slowly tilting towards his wife Kyung Ah, his obliviousness and unconcerned about her fixates just how important Eun Soo was for him. Perhaps Do Woo knew his extent of madness and even though he despised the rest of the world that outcasted him, there might’ve been a tiny desire to feel belonged. This might be the reason why he was so afraid to cross the limits and held onto his sister like he was holding onto the last strand of sanity.

“You are my heart. I don’t have one inside me – because that’s you. Have I said it? If you are by my side, I feel like I can stop myself. Eun Soo, help me.”

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I am being a bit biased on how I comprehend the entire series by dedicating a whole article on just one character despite its awesome plot, intricate direction and pleasant performances by other actors. But for me, what really made Story of a Man so captivating was the character Chae Do Woo itself. Had he not been so emotionless, the hero would’ve never conflicted for vengeance and the viewers would’ve never rooted for his victory. After all the victory of good can only be satisfying if the evil is worth all the fight. Thanks to Kim King Woo’s indecipherable performance, not only did the writer get a whole platform to explore Do Woo’s madness, but also gave me my first psychopath crush.

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