Manhwa: The Flowers of Evil (2006-2008)
Author: Lee Hyeon-Sook
Genre: Drama, Romance, Psychological
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A dark desire disturbs the sanctity of the heart. The color of it cannot be recognized and its quench cannot be satisfied. What it yearns for, it cannot have. The sole pleasure that fuels its beat drowns slowly in its own drum; and something far more devastating blooms from these buds of desire. Some may call it wrong. Some may even call it evil – but it’s disguise is far more illusory. The petals soaked with taboo, the stem etched with sin; the flower that arises from the crevices of this heart can be nothing but a flower of “evil”, or in more colloquial terms, of love.
This longing is not foreign to the fictional characters of this story nor are the reverberating effects of such experiences. What this narrative is able to capture, is the rawest form of this feeling, or “love” in all of its tarnish and flaws; without the idyllic socially-studded romanticizing, and without the morally constructed, hypocritical barriers that reductively portray love in mathematical terms and axioms.
Yet things are never that simple. And this is exactly what the manhwa “The Flowers of Evil” paints.
The manhwa opens up with a small anecdote that ends in rhetoric, asking : would you rather be loved by all or loved by one person? To “answer” this question, the narrative then traces the lives of two fraternal twins, Se-Wa and Se-Joon and their progressive descent into a world stained by forbiddance. A love story about incest? Yes. It is. Yet, it is so much more than that. It is an entire feeling, state that is explored solely through the psychological perspective of the main characters. Their kinship or familial bond is at the forefront and there is no shy retreat from that. It is thoroughly established, but because of the exceptional exploration of character motives, psyche, and their volatile states, the labels become superfluous. Love then isn’t painted as some fairy-tale element that boy x and girl y attain harmoniously. It is tainted. It is flawed. It is painful. It brings out the worst in people It brings misery, jealousy, and suffering, but like a flower, always remains outwardly beautiful and Sook brings that out in all of its candor.
This dual candor can be seen through the beautiful, but obsessive Se-Wa, whose continual attachment to her brother morphs into various forms of jealousy and acts of self-harm. And it isn’t just because she can. No. Sook carefully peels back the layers of each character in a suave mesh – implicitly and explicitly – showing us the “whys” and “hows”. There are soft nuances littered throughout the manhwa whether it be through Se-Joon’s “Dr-Jekyll/Mr-Hyde” duality or Se-Wa’s breaking insecurity. What is glaringly apparent is the fragility of it all. Both characters are akin to mirrors that break again, and again as their remaining shards are glued again, and again only to repeat the cycle.
Really, what I feel compelled to applaud Sook for, is being able to remove the rose-colored glasses, give a roundabout fuck-you to social constructs, and create an incredibly visceral and down-to-earth story that not only disturbs the soul, but moves it. In effect, what this manhwa then becomes, is a portrait reflecting a state of love, a kind of love that is outlawed in all realms. Yet Sook challenges us to see things another way, and we can’t help but fall down the rabbit hole with Se-Wa and Se-Joon as they struggle wholesomely, to love, to be loved, and most of all, be accepted.
The development of the ill-fated relationship, or rather the eventual breakdown of it is meticulously crafted. Even the more extreme actions rooted in borderline-psychotic absurdity feel completely natural and even, essential. No unnecessarily needed melodramatic shtick is employed; even though many of occurrences that stem from the relationship of the Se-Wa and Se-Joon could often been seen as such. And really, nothing weld the piece more than the aesthetic presentation, which is only secondary to the stellar writing. This is creatively highlighted through the juxtaposition of objects synonymous with physical beauty such as roses that are framed at the edges of the panel(s) that in content and context, were comfortably seated in pain and suffering. The gothic atmosphere and design also illuminated the subtle points of the story and helped keep this running theme of ironical idyllic romance picking at our subconscious.
“The Flowers of Evil” is physically striking, contextually disturbing, and hopelessly real as it paints the hole that slowly swallows all expectations of traditional romances. This narrative is truly a fantastic work of fiction that steps beyond its own fictional realms and wanders around with the hidden conditions of love and it does so by answering a very simple question: loved by all or loved by one…and in the process what it re-tunes for us, is very simple:
There is a dark desire that disturbs the sanctity of the heart. It blossoms beautifully under the breaths and whispers of those who try to subdue it. It is conditional and takes more than it gives; and thus perhaps the answer to the original question posed is innately devalued in vain. This desire be equated to love? Yes. There are those who will not call it love, but sin as shown within the pages of the manhwa and the frames of our own life. There are those who will call it evil but who cares? Whether its evil or not, one thing is for sure: that it is love – in all of its non-binary, indefinable, inexplicable glory. And it is and will forever appear to be beautiful.
The manhwa features copious amounts of incestuous themes. This may or may not offend you, but if it does, skip this one. This is an entirely inverted piece that is only suited for open minds. I am not an apologist of this nor does this reflect my own views on the subject matter. My evaluation is purely based on the story and its presentation.