The drama tells the story of Vincenzo Cassano (Song Joong-ki), also Park Joo-hyung, who was adopted by Don Fabio when he was just eight. He became an Italian lawyer, a mafia consigliere and Don Fabio’s most trusted right-hand man. Just as Fabio died, his biological son and the new leader, who was bitter tried to kill Vincenzo. He then fled to South Korea. He helped a Chinese tycoon to stash away 1.5 tons of gold in Geumga Plaza in Seoul and since no one else knew about it, Vincenzo planned to get them out from the highly secured vault and use it as his retirement fund after leaving Italy and the mafia. However, Babel group has illegally taken control of the building so, Vincenzo had no choice but use his mafia skills–dealing with problems by threats of a person’s weakness or murder–and reclaim the building and the gold.
Vincenzo was hilarious but started out slow and with uneven beginning, but it sailed dramatically which tightened the show’s focus from Episode 4 and had the audience a lot to look forward to. Moreover, the story’s movement are highlighted by difference symbolisms.
Going back, Vincenzo’s cast includes the following: (1) Jeon Yeo-been as Hong Cha-young, the daughter of Hong Yoo-chan, a human rights lawyer of the Jipuragi Law Firm and chairman of the Development Opposition Committee for Geumga Plaza, who was first an associate of Wusang Law Firm, but later shared her father’s belief that justice, above all else, must be served. When her father died, she became the CEO and owner of the Jipurage and joined hands with Vincenzo. (2) 2PM’s Ok Taec-yeon as Jang Han-seok who was introduced as Jang Jun-woo, a slow intern in Wusang and working as Hong Cha-young paralegal and assistant. He revealed his identity as the powerful decision-maker, who turned out to be villainous, and owner of Babel group who then assumed the role of Chairman. And (3) Kwak Dong-yeon as Jang Han-seo, the half-brother of Jang Han-seok, who appeared rude, pretentious, at times dumb, to make people believe that he was the Chairman of Babel Group. In truth, he was dim-witted but of good nature who wanted to avenge his father’s death and wanted to run the business properly.
The series also includes Kim Yeo-jin as former prosecutor turned Wusang Senior Partner, corporate fixer and Attorney Choi Myung-hee; and Cho Han-cheul who plays Han Seung-hyuk, who heads Wusang and has strong ties with media and prosecution in order to win cases for his wealthy and popular clients. Apart from them, the drama also boasts a very talented and diverse cast who play as tenants—Yoon Byung-hee as Mr. Nam, the loyal and smart paralegal who has been working with Lawyer Hong and Jipuragi for so long, he was a former special affects make-up artist; Choi Young-joon as Mr. Cho, the owner of Geumga Plaza in paper and a former agent of the International Security Intelligence Service; Im Chul as Ahn Ki Seok, an agent at International Crime Response Division who plays apprentice chef; Choi Deok-moon as Mr. Tak as the lighting scissor-fighting laundromat who was a former mob member; Kim Hyun-mook as Toto, the owner and head cook of the “fake” Italian restaurant; Lee Hang-na as Hee-so, the single mom and owner of a snack bar who happens to have her head aching because of her son who secretly smokes with delinquent kids and is into vlogging; Kim Seol-jin as Larry, the freaky owner of a dance studio; Kim Yoon-hye as Miri, the programmer turner pianist who designed the security vault within Geumga Plaza; Yang Kyung-won as Chul-wook, the self-proclaimed expert and former national martial arts champion who faithfully follows Vincenzo around with his wife, Yeon-jin, played by Seo Ye-hwa, who was a weightlifter; and Ri Woo-jin and Kwon Seung-woo, the monks who advise and protect the tenants from the material and criminal world. They are joined by Kim Young-woong as Nutria and Lee Dal and Jung Ji-yoon as workers of Ant Finance and later ByeBye Balloon. Now, could you think of the usual objects they use or carry in order to remind you of their personal concerns that made them all work together with Vincenzo?
Funny enough, the drama has such a diverse set of characters, and with such a star-studded cast, this would not only get a local and domestic fanbase but would also attract international and very varied audiences. More than that, Vincenzo displays larger than life symbols that represent the themes and motifs the drama would like to discuss.
Liberty Leading the People
Painted in the fall of 1830, Delacroix painted Liberty Leading the People to support and commemorate those who risked their lives—from the bourgeoisie up to the revolutionary workers—during the July Revolution, and, above all else, honor France. Notre Dame Cathedral rises through smoke and heralding the colors red, white, and blue—of France’s while presenting Lady Liberty and its people in a pyramidal composition. The painting has been appropriated many times. In fact, it has been the backdrop and inspiration of the play and film Les Misérables. And it was also the cover of the 2008 album of Coldplay called Viva la Vida.
In episode 7, Cha-young and Vincenzo knew an enemy of an enemy is a friend, so Vincenzo went to an art museum and flirts with Babel’s witness’s wife in front of a painting:
To make the story short, Jipuragi won that trial and Babel lost $760M. Han-seok was so livid he made the police came and arrested Cha-young. Meanwhile, the Geumga tenants were ready to protest, but celebrated Hee-soo’s birthday first. They drank and played hooky. Elsewhere, Ant Company were raiding the Geumga Plaza while Mr. Cho prepped the “protestors” in red jackets. So, Vincenzo made Cha-young released and informed her of his and Mr. Cho’s plan. He offered Hee-soo’s son, Young-ho, 50USD to film the staged protest and post it over the internet, so as to keep the tenants safe from getting hurt. Amusing enough, one of the hired protestors received a call that they were exposed. When the Ant Company arrived at the plaza, Mr. Ahn was taking the trash and was, unfortunately, wearing a red coat. Young-ho ran inside and called for reinforcement so the drunk tenants, armed with flag, flour, drums, and trash came up to the rescue. Vincenzo and Cha-young went back to the plaza but hardly see through the smoke made by the rumble—the birthday girl, Hee Soo, wearing a white dress she’s splurged on for the occasion, together with all the tenants who defeated Ant Company with their own “Liberty Leading the People.”
The Guillotine File
The name “guillotine” dates to the 1790s and the French Revolution, but similar execution machines had already been in existence for centuries. It was a beheading device used in Germany and Flanders during the Middle Ages, and the English had a sliding ax known as the Halifax Gibbet, which may have been lopping off heads all the way back to antiquity. The French guillotine was likely inspired by two earlier machines: the Renaissance-era “mannaia” from Italy, and the notorious “Scottish Maiden,” which claimed the lives of some 120 people between the 16th and 18th centuries. Evidence also shows that primitive guillotines may have been in use in France long before the days of the French Revolution. (Andrews, 2018) Further, it was developed as a more humane method of execution because once the head is set, one chop using the ax, then go. Nevertheless, all executions in history were spectacular, they were even done by known people or national celebrities.
In Episode 12, Vincenzo learned about “The Guillotine File” linked to Chinese boss Wang Shaolin, which had him shocked. Because he realized that Mr. Cho, just like Mr. Ahn, was also an agent for the International Security Intelligence Service and approached the Chinese tycoon as a fake corporate spy to track down the Guillotine file; and that the death of the businessman and the accidents that went along the opening of the vault were all planned. In Episode 13, Vincenzo said the “The Guillotine File” was evil and “only evil can punish evil.” In Episode 15, Vincenzo revealed that he has “The Guillotine File.” He fooled Mr. Cho into believing that he left it in the basement lock with the gold. Jipuragi planned to use it to keep evil people on a leash rather than surrender to authorities who are corrupt. So, they used it as intended and planned to ax Babel through Daechang Daily, the popular newspaper that supports the company. This made Vincenzo and Jipuragi ahead of their game.
The Tower of Babel
The Tower of Babel, standing unfinished, has become a cultural icon, symbolizing the preposterous pride of its builders and the divine punishment for such acts of arrogance. It has cast its long shadow over the entire history of the interpretation of the biblical narrative in Genesis 11: 1-9 in which it is found. “The tower with its top in the heavens,” the story’s theme, is human’s attempt to assert autonomy, attack heaven and challenge God. The division of languages and dispersion of peoples are linked to this iconic symbol. (Hiebert, 2007).
Babel, in Vincenzo, is a conglomerate that researches and produces gold and goons—drugs manufacturing, marketing and advertising, and politicking the most corrupt celebrities, businessmen, and public officials of South Korea. The audience was introduced to Jun-woo, the quirky and naïve assistanct of Cha-young when she was still with Wusang. It turned out, he was the ruthless CEO who stops at nothing to get what he wants, even if means killing his own father. He was a psychopath as a child, who killed his classmates and kept their wristwatches in his walk-in closet, that was why his father sent him to the United States and had the company taken over by his half-brother, Han-seo. The show depicts him as a dark seed who is willing to sacrifice his brother’s life only to prove that he is better than Vincenzo.
The Babel Tower, which is shown only as a an architectural model, represents Han-seok dreams of controlling all of Korea, even if it means selling his soul to the devil. The bigger story here is that Babel abuses its employees in all sorts of way and had them covered by killing. He had Atty. Choi killed Cha-young father who got in his way; he also poisoned a worker who he wants to keep his mouth shut about the illegal procedures of the Babel pharmaceutical company; he burned his researchers; and he covered up a death which put Vincenzo’s mother in jail.
However, in the end, The Tower of Babel has fallen.
Jipuragi means “straw” or “hay,” according to National Institute of Korean Language. (https://www.korean.go.kr/)
In Episode 2, Vincenzo made a partnership with Geumga Plaza’s lawyer and representative, Atty. Hong Yoo-chan, Cha-young’s father. Ever after watching the news on the whistleblower’s supposed perjury, he remained faithful to his cause and was never ready to admit defeat. So, when Vincenzo drank makgeolli with him, he brought up his curiosity towards Atty. Hong’s work as a public defender. So, the older Atty. Hong confessed that he only had one client that time—a woman who was falsely accused of murder and was fighting against cancer. He further explained that he pitied the woman who wanted to simply accept her fate as punishment for abandoning her own son when he was just a young boy. Looking at the clueless and helpless face of Vincenzo, Atty. Hong thought that he might not know how the weak suffers. He continued by saying that “Jipuragi,” his law firm is a representation of his client’s last straw of hope.
And at the end of Episode 3, a “magic ball” rolled. The whistleblower was killed. Atty. Hong missed some calls because he went for some air outside. When he went back, he told Vincenzo his favorite Italian quote, “evil to kill evil” or “monster to kill the monster.” He even asked Vincenzo if he could be the monster they needed before taking the call, which he was not able to answer.
The next thing the audience saw was Atty. Hong’s lifeless body covered with blood.
The last straw was broken. Or so was it?
How about you? Did you see any other symbols in Vincenzo?
Given these huge cultural references, Vincenzo, classified as black comedy this mafia thriller is legal melodrama with painfully little romance, camaraderie and corruption put all together, has never been less than entertaining.
You could binge-watch Vincenzo in Netflix.
You may also read 5 Reasons Why Vincenzo is the KDrama We Need to Watch or Rewatch
Andrews, E. (2018). 8 Things You May Not Know About the Guillotine. https://www.history.com/news/8-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-guillotine
Hiebert, T. (2007). The Tower of Babel and the Origin of the World’s Cultures. Journal of Biblical Literature, 126(1), 29-58. doi:10.2307/27638419
Zelazko, A. (2020, May 29). Liberty Leading the People. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Liberty-Leading-the-People