I really want to title this post “The Waif, The Witch, and The Wastrels,” but I’m sure you’ve had enough of alliterations after my recent Queen Seondeok post.
So forget the wordplay; let’s just wax lyrical about Brilliant Legacy (a.k.a. Shiny Inheritance, 2009), shall we? Because after twelve episodes, and with sixteen more to look forward to, I’ve grown truly fond of the drama.
The first episode is a distant memory and although I continue to harbor (increasingly faint) hopes that Hwan’s hair will look less nest-like, it really does not bother me now. How can I, when the poor guy has been so humiliated of late? Why should I fuss over his hair when it’s his heart that needs tending to?
But let’s put aside Hwan’s woes for now and catch up with what has been happening in Episodes 3-12.
Episode 3 begins with a most unthinkable act: Eun-woo’s abandonment by his stepmom.
That’s right. The mom who raised him for seven years, the only mom he has known since the age of three, drives him all the way to Daegu and leaves him there. That’s about 150 miles from Seoul. Her reason for abandoning the waif? Because Eun-woo has an uncanny ability to remember numbers. Because that ability means he will divulge his mom’s new address to his sister, which is a huge no-no. Our witch stepmom is determined to cut all her ties with her stepchildren.
Left outside a house, Eun-woo is taken in by a kindly couple. He refuses to talk and the simple-minded couple do not insist. They feed and clothe him and soon notice his obsession with playing the piano.
Eun-sung is distraught at losing Eun-woo and searches everywhere for him, walking for miles and returning to her friend Hye-ri’s apartment only to sleep.
Seeing Eun-sung on the verge of a physical breakdown, angel Jun-se (we do all agree on that point, don’t we?) arranges for her to move to another place and tells her to pull herself together for Eun-woo’s sake. They will definitely find Eun-woo, he says, so Eun-sung must think of the future. Where will they live and how will she support her brother?
Realizing that Jun-se is right, Eun-sung settles into her new rented place, which is really just a small room, and begins making dumplings to sell. She makes and sells so little, it’s a wonder why she even bothers. But our heroine is a gutsy girl (which is precisely why we love her) and she concocts a song-and-dance routine to attract customers. (It is really quite adorable, even more so when Jun-se joins in.)
While Eun-sung is toiling away, earning small change with her dumplings and using whatever time is left to look for a more permanent job and continue searching for Eun-woo, the three wastrels in our drama are spending money as if it’s hailing continuously from the sky.
Every won that Hwan, his mom and sister are spending comes from Grandma Jang and her seolleongtang (beef soup) business. But Hwan’s callous words (that he will sell the business when he inherits it) breaks the grandma’s heart and she suddenly goes missing. But not before administering a well-deserved slap.
Do the three profligates worry about Grandma’s disappearance? Not at all. Hwan is still seething about being slapped and arrogantly thinks she has gone away to reflect on her sin. (Forgive me, Lord, for slapping Hwan. The cheeks I used to kiss now bearing the marks of my ill-timed temper. Whatever got into me? My poor darling grandson!) Hwan’s mom and sister also grab the opportunity to have their own little getaway, at the malls.
Unknown to her family, Grandma Jang has changed into the clothes of a peasant and is wandering the alleys, a basin on her head, just like how she used to peddle food. She suddenly begins hallucinating, thinks she sees her son Min-suk (Hwan’s father) and runs after his little boy figure, tears streaming down her face. She then trips and tumbles down the steps in the alley. Eun-sung, on her way home after selling her dumplings, finds the old lady unconscious on the ground.
Just as we expect, Eun-sung brings Grandma Jang home after learning the latter has amnesia from her fall and is unable to reveal anything about herself. Over the next few days the two stay together, forging a bond that will be the foundation for the drama’s main plot (I’ll come to that later). They fuss over each other, quarrel even. It’s all very sweet and touching.
With the little money that she has, Eun-sung buys a woollen vest for her new elderly roommate. She cooks for her, cleans up after her, cares for her as if they are truly grandmother and granddaughter.
Because of the grandma, Eun-sung misses a job interview (with Grandma’s seolleongtang company!) which makes her really upset. (I love seeing the different facets of their relationship. They don’t behave like strangers, but like family members who have known each other all their lives.)
If you’re so mad, just chase me away, the grandma says. How can I chase you away, Eun-sung retorts tearfully. I know how it feels like to be abandoned, to be driven out. Wherever Eun-woo is right now, I hope someone has taken him in. How can I abandon you, she screams at the grandma, how can I? When Eun-woo comes back, the three of us will live together. Don’t ever mention leaving again!
About a week after coming to live with Eun-sung, the grandma vanishes. A man waits for Eun-sung outside her gate and tells her that the grandma has regained her memory and is waiting for her. Eun-sung learns, to her utter astonishment, that the cranky grandma who has shared her room the last week, is actually a wealthy woman living in a mansion.
The grandma strikes a deal with Eun-sung:
Come work for me and live with me. In return, I promise to find your brother. I will use every means at my disposal to look for Eun-woo. But you must live in my house, as part of my family.
How does Hwan feel about Grandma’s decision? Well, let’s just say he’s totally predictable. In fact, the moment he sees Eun-sung going up the steps of the house, he accuses her of trespassing, tries to twist her arm off, and even yells for his mom and sister to get the police. (Never crossed your mind for a sec that the police might arrest you for assault instead, Hwannie?)
But no matter how the three wastrels rage and roar, Grandma’s word is law. Eun-sung moves into the attic room that has been specially (and lovingly) furnished for her.
Even though she is now working for the grandma, Eun-sung still wakes up bright and early to deliver milk. (Coffee Prince flashbacks, anyone?) This of course makes Jun-se very concerned and the sweetie promptly presents her with an extremely girly bicycle (festooned with pink balloons and all, awww).
Just a note about Jun-se. To earn Eun-sung’s trust, he has resorted to lies and pretext. He’s just an employee at his friend’s restaurant (that same friend who dumped Eun-sung early in the drama), he’s just bunking at said friend’s apartment, and he drives a small and cheap car.
But it’s only a matter of time before Eun-sung learns that her “Oppa” is actually his own boss, has his own apartment, and owns a car not to be sniffed at. That realization leaves her feeling betrayed.
I thought you were concerned for me because you understand what it’s like to be poor. I thought we were kindred souls and I could trust you! How could you lie to me?
A passionate outburst ensues (which allows Jun-se’s lustrous lashes to glisten with tears, which of course necessitates more frantic screencapping). But our hurt and angry Eun-sung refuses to accept Jun-se’s explanation and essentially tells him to get out of her life.
But can Eun-sung stay mad for long? What do you think? Can anyone be angry with this face?
After Hye-ri chides Eun-sung, reminding her of everything that Jun-se has done for her, our kind-hearted girl shows up at his restaurant one day. He sees her bent over in the garden, planting flowers carted all the way from New York. (I’m guessing she brought them back as seeds; otherwise how did the blooms survive this long?)
She smiles at him, he beams back with a radiance that instantly eclipses the sun, and all is well again with the two, at least on Eun-sung’s side. He, privately, is taken aback when she says he’s the brother sent to look after her. But better brother than enemy, so our Jun-se (who’s very much in love with her; is anyone surprised?) accepts how the lines are drawn for now. A man can hope, right?
Keep hoping, Jun-se. No one more worthy than you has yet appeared to challenge you for Eun-sung’s affections. If you’re concerned that Eun-sung and Hwan are spending so much time together, don’t be. She absolutely detests him.
But let’s backtrack a bit. Much has been happening in Grandma Jang’s household after Eun-sung moved in. The three merry wastrels’ world is now topsy-turvy, thanks to Grandma Jang. (I totally love her. She’s the best thing in the drama.)
Our matriarch has issued a new edict which I shall summarize thus (with slight modifications):
If you think I’ll continue providing for you to live like Your Royal Highnesses, you are more deluded than a pack of hyenas trying to gatecrash American Idol.
From today all three of you will work in the company. You’ll receive 10,000 won a day. Don’t think about charging anything to your credit cards because they are now as useful as expired train tickets.
If you don’t want to work for the company, go and find your own work. But WORK. No work, no money. No work, no nothing, just leave the house.
Don’t pull any stunts on me because I have eyes following your every move. Think you can pawn your exy branded bags for cash? Think again.
Hwan, hand over your car keys. If taking a bus is beneath you and only a cab will do, just remember you have 10,000 won a day. Spend it as you wish, but don’t expect more. Whining is so yesterday.
By the way, I’m leaving everything I own to Eun-sung. That inheritance that you so covet? None of it is yours except a few wiltered plants. Now weep your hearts out.
And Hwan, if you lay one brutish finger on Eun-sung again, you’ll henceforth be permanently stationed in the restaurant’s restrooms.
It was midway in Episode 12 when the realization hit me:
This drama is not about Hwan and Eun-sung’s romance, it’s about the inheritance. See the title? It’s the legacy, the Grandma’s inheritance, her beloved seolleongtang business, that is central to the plot.
No wonder. Twelve episodes down and Eun-sung is still not the slightest bit interested in Hwan. The weeks of living under the same roof and working in close proximity have not endeared the jerk to her one bit. If anything it has only deepened her dislike for him.
See the laughable way he handles the mop in the main restaurant? Who mops the stairs that way, like a bulldozer, with that brute force, with that weird mix of disdain and vengeance? (Stop abusing the mop. You’ll only tire yourself out, you silly boy.) He wears a permanent scowl (hence that badge on his uniform), is rude to everyone, and gets Eun-sung (who is responsible for training him) into trouble again and again.
Yes, Hwan’s taming, like that of his mom and sis, is hilarious and oh, so satisfying to watch. See how they calculate each won now, trying to make 10,000 won last. It’s overdue comeuppance.
(Although Hwan hasn’t endeared himself to Eun-sung yet, his fall from grace has honestly made him a lot more likable. I even feel bad for the guy. I can also see now why Lee Seung-gi has legions of fans. He really is quite adorable.)
But why have our lazy and spendthrift trio become so compliant? It’s really all about the inheritance.
When Grandma Jang first announced that she was going to bequeath her inheritance to Eun-sung, everyone thought she had gone loony. Even Eun-sung thought it was just a ploy to get Hwan to toe the line, a brilliant idea to knock some sense into his head. It seemed that way to us viewers, too. No matter how much she liked Eun-sung, surely Grandma would not actually give everything to Eun-sung and nothing to her own kin?
But we see in Episode 12 that the grandma is dead serious. She tears up her old will (which would have left all her shares in the company to Hwan, and properties to his mom and sister) and reveals a new will.
Before that sleight-of-hand move, however, Grandma has already told Eun-sung that she is indeed making the latter her new heir. At first bewildered, then adamant that she will reject the inheritance, Eun-sung finally agrees. The reason for her change of heart? Revenge.
(That revenge motive is just my conjecture, having watched only up to Episode 12. But allow me to explain my intuition below. To do that, we must catch up with Eun-sung’s dad and stepmom, and with Eun-woo himself. Everything that Eun-sung does is for Eun-woo.)
All this time, Eun-sung’s dead-but-alive father has been searching frantically for her. He has tried their house, Eun-sung’s number, his wife’s number, Seung-mi’s, Eun-woo’s school, but it’s as if his entire family has disappeared into a black hole.
As a last resort, he hangs out at his wife’s favorite spa and true enough, sees her at the parking lot. This corroborates recent research which shows that even in a recession, women do not stop spending on their looks. It’s one constant in a sea of change.
Another given is that a woman should rightly rejoice on seeing her dead husband now resurrected, even if his face looks like it hasn’t met soap and water in weeks.
But Baek Sung-hee, as we have already established, is not exactly normal. (She may not even be human!)
The no-longer-widowed wife chides her no-longer-dead husband for ruining her life and cooks up a tale of Eun-sung and Eun-woo leaving for the States with all of the insurance payout. She then hands him some money and tells him to scram. When Eun-sung contacts me, I’ll e-mail you. Just lie low and don’t show up and startle me again.
But of course her husband is more resourceful than she gives him credit for.
On his first wife’s death anniversary, he goes to her graveside and is shocked to see that someone else has already left flowers there. Not just flowers, but his wife’s favorite flowers. And her favorite champagne.
Who else but Eun-sung could have placed them there? The girl whose back he had glimpsed earlier, leaving the cemetery with a man… Could that be his Eun-sung?
He runs after them, but it’s too late. Now more determined than ever to find Eun-sung and Eun-woo, he remembers seeing their stepmom’s address on her car.
However, he does not reckon for his once-loving wife burning all her bridges, which includes him.
No turning back, no crying over spilled milk, no trying to atone for one’s sins. Her husband’s sudden appearance at her door may throw her off momentarily, but so what?
She will do everything to protect herself, her daughter, and their new life. No matter how many people will get hurt, nothing must thwart her goal of making Hwan her son-in-law. No one must know how Seung-mi and Eun-sung are related, or that their dead father is very much alive. If Hwan’s family learns the truth, how will they accept Seung-mi?
Of course our witch assumes Hwan is a done deal. She isn’t aware, as Seung-mi is, that Hwan hasn’t committed himself to her precious daughter. If she knew that his eyes had in fact been straying of late, making him see Eun-sung everywhere, she would have totally flipped.
That’s a dolled-up Eun-sung above. Eun-sung like Hwan has never seen her before.
Okay, an explanation. You see, Eun-sung has a sort of group date coming up with Jun-se and Hye-ri, to thank them for all they have done for her. Grandma looks at our girl and sees she’s severely lacking in clothes, so off to the stores we go. Eun-sung protests, but of course Grandma has her way. (I hope I’m not portraying our grandma as a despot; she really is a dear.)
The result? New clothes, new hairdo, a made-up face. It’s enough to make Hwan keel over.
Already our almost-tamed Hwan has been casting sideway glances at Eun-sung, his mind subconsciously processing his newfound knowledge of her.
So her father is dead. And he, Hwan, is the reason why Eun-sung failed to see her father’s body for the last time. Wretched switched bags! So she can cook, preparing the family (one grandma, three profligates and one butler) a fusion dish of steak bibimbap, which everyone wolves down. So she has a brother, now missing, again. (She thought she had found him because the hired sleuths manage to track him down to the couple’s house, but an unfortunate turn of events involving a piano causes Eun-woo to disappear.)
Standing outside her room listening to her sobs, Hwan’s heart begins to move in strange ways.
(And I’m moved too, except it’s from chair to floor. Just see the two guys side by side and their contrasting hairdos. Bwahaha!)
Unfortunately for Hwan, even as his heart is moving towards Eun-sung (he isn’t fully cognizant of that fact yet, I must add, but since when have humans been able to control their hearts?), she has now turned against him completely.
If Hwan hadn’t stepped on her phone that day in the nightclub, that same night that Eun-woo first went missing, she wouldn’t have missed Eun-woo’s call. She knew he would have called her if he had gotten lost, but with her phone broken, there was no way he could reach her. If she had answered Eun-woo’s call, he wouldn’t have been taken away and left in Daegu.
On receiving the news that Eun-woo has been found, Eun-sung and Jun-se rush to Daegu. But the couple, who sheltered Eun-woo and treated him as their son, tells them that Eun-woo had gone to the piano store and must have run off when he found out that the pianos were being moved to another city. They have searched everywhere, but Eun-woo is nowhere to be seen.
Devastated at losing Eun-woo again, Eun-sung lies in bed crying all day. Everyone is concerned, even Hwan’s mom and sis. The former makes porridge (for Eun-sung) and the latter whines, “If I had known her brother was missing, I would have treated her better!” (Same thing as “Show me the money and we’ll talk.” Our youngest wastrel is nothing but pragmatic.)
Eventually, with Grandma’s gentle coaxing, Eun-sung pulls herself together.
Piecing together information from the Daegu couple, Eun-sung learns that when Eun-woo was found outside the couple’s gate, he was eating chocolate. Who gave him the chocolate? A person called “Mom.” Only one person is Mom to Eun-woo. Only his immediate family members (Eun-sung, dad, stepmom and Seung-mi) know how easily he can be enticed to do anything when bribed with chocolate.
Which means the one who abandoned Eun-woo must be… their stepmom.
What does the witch’s dastardly act have to do with the revenge motive I proposed earlier?
My understanding is that Eun-sung realizes that on her own it is impossible for her to force her stepmom’s confession and to make her pay for the anguish and suffering she has caused. The witch’s trump card is this: Where is the evidence that I dumped Eun-woo at Daegu? Who saw me?
The only one powerful enough to help her exact justice is the grandma. But Eun-sung can’t rely on her benefactor forever. She herself must become strong enough, rich enough, powerful enough. That is the only way she can find Eun-woo and get her revenge on their stepmom. So she will accept the inheritance. She will show the witch what she, Go Eun-sung, is capable of.
I’m not surprised that Brilliant Legacy has continued to pull in impressive ratings. It really is an absorbing drama, well written and directed, with a compelling plot and solid acting. After a shaky start (a first episode which made me yawn and roll my eyes), it hasn’t dragged one bit. Granted a few developments feel far-fetched (like the Grandma’s disappearing act and Eun-woo getting rescued a second time, by Hwan’s friend of all people). But everything is connected, all the pieces fit.
On the surface all the families are incomplete. All the young folks have a missing parent. Everyone has experienced a form of abandonment. Grandma Jang’s pain over losing her son (Hwan’s dad) has never diminished. Hwan witnessed his father’s untimely death and has never recovered. Eun-sung lost her parents and brother and must now grapple with the enormity of her stepmom’s betrayal. Eun-woo is lost, literally. Jun-se’s mother is either dead or divorced. (I’m unsure where she is, but he seems to suggest his dad has neglected her.) Everyone is struggling to overcome obstacles big and small. Everyone is changing, and that change has come from their connectedness, their shared experiences.
The witch in our drama is unlike other evil moms that I’ve watched in kdramas. For one thing I can’t bring myself to dislike her. I don’t feel repulsed by her behavior; on the contrary she intrigues me. She is a mom in every animalistic sense of the word. She fights to protect her young and will kill if necessary to ensure her offspring survives. She is like a wounded lioness still bearing the scars of old battles. She is wiser now but also more cruel, more beastlike than ever. It is the only way she knows how to live.
I like how the relationships are developing, realistically without too much histrionics. Twelve episodes and Eun-sung still hasn’t displayed any romantic feelings for either Hwan or Jun-se. Instead what we’re seeing is a sweet and enduring friendship developing between her and Jun-se. He’s neither clingy nor pushy, he gives her space to be herself, he’s there when she needs him. He’s altogether perfect and what’s wrong with that? The world is a better place because of people like him! As for Hwan, I’m really loving the change and growth in his character and how he and Eun-sung are also laying the foundations for a strong relationship. Nothing like being housemates and colleagues to bring out the best and worst in each other. After her blistering condemnation of him in Episode 12, Hwan is going to need more than apologies to change Eun-sung’s perception of him. Still, their bickering is loads of fun to watch and I can’t wait to see their relationship develop further.
Wait a minute. Did I, a total Jun-se fangirl, just write the last line above?
Yes, I did. The reason is because I honestly don’t mind if Eun-sung falls in love with Hwan. As long as she loves him, that’s fine with me. I’m not worried about Jun-se because a line two miles long of women wanting to comfort him has already formed. (Dang, and I left my umbrella at home. Please don’t rain on me!)
More than the romance, I’m really interested in how Eun-sung is going to use the inheritance. The battle that I want to see is not between Hwan and Jun-se. It’s between Eun-sung and the witch!