The melodrama genre of K-drama has its share of improbable plots, shocking twists and selfish characters. These things take on even greater significance when the person involved are siblings. Sibling rivalry takes on new meaning in Baker King Kim Tak Goo and Five Fingers. Both of these Kdramas explore loyalty and love and question what it means to be “true” brothers.
In Baker King Kim Tak Goo, Tak Goo and Ma Joon start out not liking each other. Tak Goo is brought into the chaebol family after living a scrappy but love-filled life with his mother in a small town. Ma Joon is the spoiled brat who is used to having everything. To make things worse, Tak Goo’s mother teaches him to be nice and work hard, while Ma Joon’s mother encourages him to be mean and evil in order to achieve his goals and dreams.
Their personalities and maternal influences have an impact on their relationship. Tak Goo is relentless in his attempts to be a hyung to Ma Joon. Tak Goo wants him to be a better person and achieve his dreams. Not only could Ma Joon care less, he takes every opportunity he can to try to win over Tak Goo. Ma Joon competes with Tak Goo over the affections of their father, status in the baking world and a girl (of course). If you are a regular viewer of Kdrama, you are not surprised by these antics.
However, there is a twist to this sibling rivalry. THESE GUYS ARE NOT EVEN RELATED!!! They do not share either parent. And yet, this does not stop Tak Goo in his desire to be a good older brother and keep Ma Joon on the straight and narrow. Eventually, Ma Joon understands and comes to accept Tak Goo’s brotherly affections, but not until after he does everything imaginable to him: cheating at baking competitions, arranging for “accidents,” etc.
While some of us might have kicked Ma Joon to the curb LONG AGO, Tak Goo comes off as long-suffering, and they end up acting like brothers in the end. Ma Joon cries because he’s done so many bad things to Tak Goo (including stealing his girl!) and can’t understand why Tak Goo never tries to get back at him. Tak Goo, in his relentlessly optimistic way, insists they are brothers and that’s what brothers do.
The same cannot be said for the brothers in Five Fingers. These guys are related, but they often don’t act like it. The Kdrama sets up their relationship in much the same way as the siblings in Baker King Kim Tak Goo. Ji Ho is brought into the chaebol family after the unfortunate loss of the elderly woman who was taking care of him in a rural district. While he lacks many advantages his brother has, Ji Ho does have a natural talent for music and a kind heart. He wants to help others and share. On the other hand, his brother, In Ha, has had his every whim met. In addition, he has a scheming mother who encourages him to not just be ambitious, but to beat down his brother on every occasion.
Like Ma Joon, In Ha is looking for acknowledgement from his father, who seems to dote on Ji Ho. But Ji Ho bears the brunt of In Ha’s daddy issues. It would be one thing if In Ha honestly competed with Ji Ho. But because of his low self-esteem issues, In Ha cheats. In everything! He goes overboard with his schemes. They start out small: he frames Ji Ho for stealing music from their musical mentor and frames him for plagiarism. But the more he fails, the greater the schemes get. As the Kdrama progresses, In Ha moves on to destroying evidence, obstructing justice and framing Ji Ho for murder. We’re talking prison time here! Korean prison is no joke!
However, unlike Tak Goo, Ji Ho isn’t going to take this laying down. He tries to be the good brother, but when your family tries to send you prison, a little piece of you dies inside. Ji Ho feels bad about it, but it doesn’t stop him from giving In Ha back all the grief In Ha gave him. Ji Ho’s not all bad: he does save his brother in the end. He experiences actual moral dilemmas in taking revenge on his brother, but he does it anyway. He’s also willing to forgive him (YES, even after the framing).
But In Ha doesn’t start to show any brotherly feeling until the last episode of the Kdrama! This failure to redeem the brother relationship makes the resolution in Five Fingers less satisfying. I wanted to see Ji Ho and In Ha reconciled, but it seems that there is so much that has transpired between them. Also, the mother-son dynamic often overwhelms the sibling dynamic. In Ha acts as he does towards Ji Ho because of his evil mom. Yes, Chae Young Rang has to be one of the evilest mothers in Kdrama! (But that’s another blog post). Suffice to say, Young Rang not only encourages In Ha to do bad things to his brother, she helps him to do bad things to his brother. She facilitates the anti-sibling dynamic between the two.
Family ties are strong in Kdramas, but they can also create tensions that make it difficult for brothers to be brothers.
“Baker King Kim Tak Goo, Tak Goo and Ma Jun (All Korean Drama),” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed March 7, 2015, http://kdrama.omeka.net/items/show/65.
“Five Fingers, Ji-Ho and In-Ha (AsianWiki),” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed March 7, 2015, http://kdrama.omeka.net/items/show/64.
My Brother’s Keeper: Melodramatic Siblings in Baker King Kim Tak Goo and Five Fingers by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.