NOTE: This is Part 2 of a series on Studio Dragon’s Vincenzo. This article series has heavy spoilers for the entirety of the show, so please proceed with caution.
The series will be as follows:
1) Introduction + Acting
2) Writing – YOU ARE HERE
3) Other Character Interactions
4) Scene Analysis #1
5) Scene Analysis #2 + Conclusion
For those of you who haven’t watched the show, this is the last warning. I will be spoiling the entirety of Vincenzo in this character analysis.
PART 2: The Writing
NOTE: I had to get screenshots from YouTube videos, so please support the following YouTube creators: “Hell is empty and all the devils are here” and sophie야.
The Mystery – 1, 2, 3, 4
When they revealed Jang Hanseok to us, the audience, at the end of Episode 4, I was surprised. However, what surprised me more was how much sense the reveal made. Beyond Ok Taecyeon’s acting, the writing of the show – but especially in the first four episodes – is absolutely stellar. The way Hanseok’s identity is presented in the early episodes of the show is a mystery to be solved by the leads – possibly the main mystery of the show. However, Vincenzo isn’t a mystery show. It’s more of a race – each episode presents new challenges, and whoever beats the other to the punch effectively wins.
In the case of Hanseok’s identity reveal, it actually shows how much of a leg up Hanseok has on Vincenzo – he’s literally ten episodes ahead of him. He has enough time to get a grip on Vincenzo’s process and take him by surprise – which is, of course exactly what he loves. In Hanseok’s mind, surprise is a form of power.
Hanseok having a head start on Vincenzo means that by the time Vincenzo does find out about him (in Episode 11) Hanseok has already mentally prepared to deal with a mafia consigliere. Whether or not Hanseok is actually physically prepared, though, he generally leaves to the people around him to take care of. It’s not about being literally prepared, but psychologically prepared. And he is very, very prepared to deal with a mobster.
It’s important to note that the show actually seeds the Junwoo/Hanseok reveal very early on, so that it doesn’t come out of nowhere. Hanseok carefully sizes up Vincenzo upon meeting him, and asks him his name without butchering it, showing a degree of competence. He compliments Chayoung’s watch, which is relevant to a later reveal about his heinous actions. And, of course, there’s Hanseok and Chayoung’s first meeting with Han Seo – which we’ll get to in the next article.
The Core – “God enjoys making people suffer.”
There are two words that describe Jang Hanseok better than all others: Magnificent Bastard.
The Magnificent Bastard is a trope referring to a character – usually a villain – who is supremely intelligent, charmingly charismatic, and steadfastly driven towards a specific aim. To quote the description on TV Tropes:
- They are brilliant and utterly devious, a smooth operator. They are also savvy and do not fall for obvious traps; bringing them down is no easy feat.
- They have a goal, and they’re not going to stop until they’ve completed it. Even when the goal is suicidally over-ambitious, they succeed with style.
- They are charismatic, often charming, their personality is like a physical force. While they exist on the darker end of the moral spectrum, they never take disgusting actions that undermine their magnificence, leaving them diabolical but in a way the audience can’t help but enjoy. And they are definitively not cowards. Ever.
Overly Sarcastic Productions on YouTube expounded upon this definition, explaining that a Magnificent Bastard (or “Charismaniac”, as it were) cannot be impulsive. They can be petty, but they have to be calculated. Because if the character loses control regularly, or has none to begin with, it implies that the character is acting entirely on a whim and is less intelligent than they let on. Therefore, they can’t be a Charismaniac.
If this were a test, Jang Hanseok would pass with flying colors. Hanseok is the epitome of the Magnificent Bastard. He has a goal that he will accomplish no matter what, no matter who he steps on. He’s unnervingly charming – the moment he’s on screen, you can’t look away. And I have never – never – seen a character as convincingly sadistic as him. But what cements him as a true Magnificent Bastard is his intelligence – nearly every moment on he is on screen, he’s calculating the correct play. No matter what hand he is dealt, he knows exactly what to do to maximize his advantage.
Jang Hanseok is the definition of a Charismaniac.
And his goal is power.
Hanseok spends the majority of his time in the show leveraging his power as the secret owner of Babel and accumulating power via as many other means as he can. He started by removing familial threats – killing his father and abusing his brother Han Seo – to consolidate power in the most intimate social circle he had. Fortuitously for Hanseok, this social circle was the center of Babel leadership. Once Hanseok had his brother under his thumb and his father six feet under, Babel was effectively his.
Let’s focus on Hanseok’s alter ego, Junwoo. “Junwoo” appears to be a manchild, an archetypical himbo. He has a number of tics that are coded to be perceived as juvenile, like getting overemotional, fumbling when he’s doing simple tasks like parking his scooter, and generally – and obviously – trying to impress people. He’s presented to the audience as a comic relief character. Then, at the end of Episode Four, the rug is completely pulled out from under us.
There is one scene that sells us on “Junwoo” being a comic relief character, thereby making the Hanseok reveal that much more insane. In Episode 2, Junwoo is cleaning up in Han Seunghyuk’s office when he overhears Seunghyuk talking about the demolition team coming to Geumga Plaza. He’s slightly more subdued than we’ve seen him before, but he still opens his mouth in shock when he realizes what’s being said. Since he is not being observed, he’s not as over the top as he could be, but because he’s still in the office with Seunghyuk, he is still technically in character as Junwoo. We catch a glimpse of the real Hanseok here – actively calculating the correct move, not showing his hand to the characters but subtly cluing us in that there’s more to this character than meets the eye.
The way Hanseok is written after the reveal also has to be internally consistent for this story to work – and it is. I talked about this more in the previous article on Ok Taecyeon’s acting, but the traits that make Junwoo endearing are the traits that make Hanseok terrifying. Both personas are relaxed, lackadaisical even. But those lackadaisical traits that make Junwoo seem like a youthful, sweet soul are the exact same traits that indicate Hanseok’s complete and utter lack of fear or self-preservation.
His apathy is our fear.
Part of the reason this works is casting. Casting a K-Pop idol, particularly a K-Pop idol who has done a lot of comedy, was an incredible misdirection on the part of the production. K-Pop comes with its own associations, one of which is aegyo. To paraphrase, the term aegyo is basically just “acting cute,” but generally refers to a series of gestures like finger hearts that can often be construed as childish. So when we see Ok Taecyeon, a famous K-Pop idol, behaving in a stereotypically “cute” manner connects the audience with this concept of aegyo. So when “Junwoo” does a complete 180 and becomes Hanseok, we are floored because it subverts our understanding of the behaviors expected of an idol.
However, Ok Taecyeon wouldn’t be able to act the role as well as he did if it weren’t for the way Hanseok is written.
Acting out the role of the dense-but-kindhearted Junwoo, thereby putting himself in the place of an intern, is the ultimate power play. “Junwoo,” being a law intern, is privy to all of the strategies that the lawyers for Babel are putting together. He can see exactly which knife is sharpest, and which one cuts deepest.
But there’s more to the decision to be a lowly intern. “Junwoo” is practically invisible in the eyes of Wusang Law. He’s an intern, assigned to do menial tasks like paperwork and picking up after the partners. Based on his position and his overall childlike demeanor, they never think anything of him. They barely talk to him.
And whenever he is not talking, Hanseok is listening.
Hanseok holds all the cards without anyone knowing. People trust him because they think he’s a dense intern. But he’s always observing and taking in information – information that he is very good at using against people. As an example: Hanseok got kicked in the back by Han Seunghyuk (the managing partner at Wusang and Chayoung’s former boss) while masquerading as Junwoo. After revealing himself as Hanseok, he kicks the table while looking at Seunghyuk – which immediately sets Seunghyuk off. And, since Hanseok knows Seunghyuk is a habitual butt-kisser who hates making powerful people upset, leveraging the fact that Seunghyuk had kicked a powerful person in the back when that person was perceived as powerless pushes Seunghyuk into a corner that he can’t escape from.
Junwoo’s modus operandi is incredibly effective.
The Fatal Flaw – Episode 12
One of the hardest lessons to learn in scriptwriting is that characters need to be flawed. Sometimes, the writer will get so invested in a character that the narrative as a whole will treat a singular character as the most important human being alive. Even if they’re the villain, they’ll seem to know absolutely everything, and get away with absolutely everything without much more than a handwave.
Vincenzo, luckily, doesn’t have this problem. Every character feels like a person. And that’s because they all have flaws. Vincenzo Cassano avoids letting people get close as guilt for everything he’s done, and his self-isolation is a driving force in his character arc. Hong Chayoung puts the assignment above her own feelings, which is great for taking down Babel and Wusang, but also means she has to compromise her own morals to do so.
However, it’s important to note that neither of these character flaws are inherently negative traits. Vincenzo’s private nature is part of what leads him to be so good at getting the job done – he is very good at bluffing and not showing his hand. Chayoung’s pragmatism lets her think of outside-the-box solutions (or, frankly, out-of-pocket solutions) that are almost always successful. These character traits are not flaws because they make them bad people – in fact, they’re generally good qualities. They become flaws when put in the wrong circumstances.
And Jang Hanseok’s drive for power, while being what makes him most compelling, is his character flaw. But, it’s not for the reason you think.
Greed – and being singularly focused on it – would theoretically beget the flaw of being blind to anything else. However, Hanseok is calculated, and a fantastic manipulator. Hanseok is not emotionally adept in the way Vincenzo and Chayoung are, but he is adept at figuring out exactly what makes people afraid. Han Seunghyuk is afraid of offending authority – Hanseok leverages that. Choi Myeonghee is afraid of endangering herself – Hanseok leverages that too. Han Seo is afraid of Hanseok himself – and yet again, Hanseok leverages that.
What makes Hanseok’s greed his flaw is not blindness to anything else.
No. It’s the circumstance.
How can you leverage fear on someone who has nothing to lose?
In the case of Hanseok, the only way to make him feel fear is to make him as powerless as his own victims. While power is what drives Hanseok as a character, it is also the source of his fear.
Hanseok talks about a nightmare he had in Episode 12, in which he is being buried in an unmarked grave, dying in obscurity, without anyone knowing who he is. On the surface, this reads like a fear of dying without fame, but in context, this is a dream of dying without power. Hanseok has, up until this point, gained power by selectively revealing himself – his true self, his sadistic self – to a few people with a lot of who he can manipulate for influence. Han Seo obviously knows who he is by default, but he reveals himself to Myeonghee and Seunghyuk with intent. There is a correlation for Hanseok between power and the security of his identity.
In the same scene, Myeonghee tells him that his greatest weakness, in fact, is his anonymity. If people don’t know who he is, they don’t know he has power. This comment is what prompts the decision to reveal himself to the Babel board. Interestingly, though, when he reveals himself to the Babel board, he doesn’t reveal his sadism outright. Rather, he triggers Han Seo and the chief prosecutor by revealing his sadism to them specifically – to Han Seo, he lets him know that the pain of being shot was excruciating; while to the chief prosecutor, all he has to say is “It’s ME!” and that’s enough to scare him. The triggering of these memories strikes fear into onlookers, as their normally relaxed colleagues are acting like they just saw their worst fears come to life – because, in fact, they did.
Hansoek’s revealing of his identity is, theoretically, a way to control his circumstance and turn his flaw into his asset. However, his both figurative and literal bloodlust is what leads him to make mistakes. He assumes that everyone who fears him is loyal to him because of fear.
But, as Vincenzo reveals again and again, there’s always something or someone scarier than you.
The Psychology of Hanseok
As with any character who is purportedly insane, we do have to ask the question about the nature of Hanseok’s mental state.
In Episode 15, it is stated that he was diagnosed officially as a psychopath as a teenager. This frustrated me, to say the least, because of the way that word is thrown around in general. Technically speaking, there is no true diagnosis of a psychopath. What a psychopath is Hanseok does give the impression of being narcissistic, but since they just gave him a general categorization of “psychopath” we can’t fully analyze his narcissism as an actual disorder, merely a personality trait.
There is a very real concern about ascribing a character with a mental disorder, because it can perpetuate stigma against people with such disorders – especially if the person writing them isn’t writing from a place of copious research or personal experience. Neurodivergent people are not inherently violent, just as neurotypical people are not inherently violent.
The only saving grace with Hanseok’s character in the psychological diagnosis is that he actually has to have someone explain to him things that “normal people” understand more innately. Specifically, Choi Myeonghee has to explain to him that yes, normal people do care about their families. His actual confusion at the concept (and the way Myeonghee handles it by explaining) is one thing I can say is probably him having some sort of personality disorder, though we don’t definitively know what disorder he has. He clearly doesn’t care about normal people the same way he does about power.
I do think that the show does a good job of establishing Hanseok’s sadism as separate from his disorder. His disorder isn’t revealed until episode fifteen, after we’ve gotten to know him as a person and a villain. At that point, the framing is such that this isn’t the reason for his sadism – or even really an explanation for his behavior – but instead a new piece of backstory we have to understand as a part of him. So he’s not a sadist because of his disorder, but because that’s who he is. It narrowly – narrowly – avoids the pitfall of most “psycho stalker” movies, where the person is given a diagnosis to scapegoat fundamental problems with the story logic.
Hanseok sees people as toys, regardless of what diagnosis he might have.
A Toy Playing God
I find it interesting that a lot of people ship Hanseok and Chayoung, because that relationship never struck me as anything but cold manipulation on his part. Hanseok never sees people as more than pawns. It’s part of his goal of being a God on Earth. So to assume Hanseok sees Chayoung as anything but a tool or a toy is assuming he has more emotional acuity than we have evidence for.¯ Furthermore, when he confesses his love to her in the second to last episode, it’s a fairly flat confession and devoid of any genuine affection. He literally is holding her hostage in the scene.
And it’s then succeeded by her getting shot.
This scene doesn’t read as someone who is genuinely in love. In the localized version he describes himself as “madly in love” with Chayoung, but he does so emotionlessly: “You know I’m madly in love with you, right?” These aren’t the actions of someone who actually cares about a person. This is someone who thinks this may win over another person. It reads at someone who, backed into a corner, is saying what he calculated as the appropriate response. Actually, it’s the response he thinks will get him the right reaction – loyalty.
Notably, Chayoung is completely at odds with Hanseok. Chayoung has no respect for Hanseok, though he demands it of her. Regardless of his status or potential power, she doesn’t care about how he might see her. That’s on brand for her, considering how she’s willing to make a fool of herself for her own satisfaction, no one else’s. Hanseok, on the other hand, is entirely focused on his image. The joke Chayoung makes about Hanseok’s new hairstyle looking like a K-Pop idol’s is more than a cheeky joke about Ok Taecyeon’s other profession – she’s actively criticizing his emphasis on trying to seem approachable.
But what about Vincenzo? He’s always talking about the suits and the mafia. He’s focused on his image too, right?
Well, not quite.
Unlike Hanseok, Vincenzo is honest to a fault. He can pull off a plan where he has to play a character – we all love the Episode 8 seduction – but when he’s himself, he can barely stop himself from saying he’s in the mafia in polite company. He wears the suits because he was practically born to wear them. He doesn’t care if he’s approachable, and frankly he doesn’t care if you respect him. He always gives the most honest answer he feels he can. He doesn’t even really care if people find out he’s in the mafia. He even taunts people with this information, using the Cassano C to lure Hanseok out.
Vincenzo also allows himself to play the fool when he has to. In Episode 15 he plays a shaman that channels the spirit of an antagonist’s dead brother, among others. It’s established that this is the last thing Vincenzo wants to do – he wanted Chayoung to play the shaman – but he gives it 1000%, as always. His shaman persona Yeo Rim is melodramatic, sassy, and wearing a white poppy in his hair. When “channeling” the spirit of the man’s dead brother, Vincenzo/Yeo Rim not only shivers and whimpers in his trance, but stands up and grabs the man and drags him across the floor.
Not exactly the move of a dignified mafia member, but by God does it work.
The counterargument to this being unique to Vincenzo’s character is that Hanseok performs as the foolish Junwoo, up until he can’t anymore. He even tries to fool Chayoung after he knows she’s found out. Theoretically this would mean Hanseok is as comfortable as Vincenzo in putting on a charade for others.
However, there’s no way this is true. If we are to believe that Hanseok’s greatest fear is dying powerless and in obscurity, then this betrays an intense insecurity on his part. As we’ve seen time and time again, he has to be in control of every interaction. He has to be liked and/or respected by others. When Hanseok playing Junwoo, he’s using that role as a means to get the respect of others by subverting his own likeability. However, once he stops playing Junwoo, Hanseok is preoccupied with his image and his ability to be liked and respected by others, as well as hide his own illegal acts.
Once we understand Hanseok as an insecure character, the name of his company begins to make sense. Babel. The tower of Babel – the tower of mortals who fancied themselves as powerful as God. It might as well have had an Icarus Division, if they wanted to make it clearer. Hanseok wants nothing more than to be a god, playing with people like they’re toys, building towers out of Legos and knocking them down as he pleases.
But it’s the man Hanseok fancies as a mortal who is able to play him.
Hanseok is the toy.
Vincenzo is the god.
Part 3 Arriving Soon