Every fairy tale needs an evil witch, and Gu Hwa Ran filled that role in King the Land. But since these are modern times, she is given room for redemption. Hwa Ran’s character graph on the show has been rather unsatisfactory. She hated Gu Won’s guts throughout King the Land, and at the end, she just became a character in the background.
Something we know about her is that she was made of hate for most of the series. The branches of King Group that she handled, Air and Distribution, were far more profitable than the hotel, which meant that she already had the upper hand in the inheritance. Yet she fought spitefully for the hotel, just so that Gu Won did not get it. Her prize was not the hotel, but the fact that Gu Won’s hands were left empty.
From the little glimpse we have of Hwa Ran’s childhood, we know that she felt like an outsider in her own family. We are not clear what happened to her mother, but it is evident that she never thought of Gu Won’s mother as her own. Considering the disdain she had for Won, it must have been the same for his mother. She regularly uses Won’s mother as a way to taunt him by drawing comparisons between them. This means that she has assumed that Won must also hate his mother for leaving him and going away. People often see others as a reflection of themselves, so it makes sense that Hwa Ran assumed that her brother had never emerged from it all. We are not fond of the representation that the man with the “mommy issues” is just brooding and mysterious while the woman turns into a stark, raving authoritarian. There are undertones of sexism here since it is not the first time such a difference has been written about or shown on screen, but that is a topic for another day.
Hwa Ran had been a high achiever all her life, but because she was not able to integrate herself with Won and his mother, she found herself alone. We don’t think her father ignored her on purpose, but he doesn’t come across as the most emotionally well-rounded man. Therefore, when Hwa Ran was feeling lonely as a teenager, he did not notice or make a move to soothe her fears. Considering how much she hated Won and his mom, even if they had noticed, she definitely did not want to listen to them. This is the reason that years later, Hwa Ran believes that her father does not care for her because, when she was at her lowest, he was not there for her. He was most certainly not there for Gu Won when his mom left him. It could have been guilt or the fact that he did not know how to care for his young son, but Gu Won was left as alone as Hwa Ran. She saw this as an opportunity to taunt him since he was finally in the same position as her, and with whatever twisted teen insecurity she had, she probably believed that he deserved it. She made her dislike for him clear and bullied Gu Won by throwing away his pocket watch, the one last memory he had of his mother.
In the season finale, Won makes the comment that the siblings’ childhoods have been alike: lonely and spent craving for their parents’ love. They may have reacted differently to it, but it has been the same. While Gu Won tried to understand what must have happened and rise above it, Hwa Ran battled her loneliness the only way she knew how: by trying to gain as much power as she could. Her earliest taste of it had been when her grandfather used it to separate Won’s parents. Two people who had been so in love had gone their separate ways because the might and wealth of one man had forced them to.
What does this teach an impressionable teen about love and relationships? Additionally, we know that Won’s mother brought together all the employees. Once she left, they must have been placated by some means, likely money or the threat of unemployment. Probably this is why Hwa Ran kept saying that employees of the hotel should do whatever the owner wants because they pay them money. This is what she had learned in her childhood because of the actions of her father and grandfather, and her life had taught her no different. When Hwa Ran got married, we don’t know if it was out of love or an arrangement like her father tried to set up between Won and Yuri. Regardless, she did not find love in her marriage, as her husband was a serial cheater. Yet she kept the marriage, or at least the facade of it, alive for her reputation, which translated into how much power she could gain in the King Group. She may be a negative character, but let us not forget that she must have had to battle sexism, much like Pyeong Hwa, who could not reveal the truth about her divorce to anyone.
Coming back to Hwa Ran, even her husband played along with the facade because being associated with the wealth and reputation of King Group must have had its benefits. Once again, Hwa Ran saw power triumph over love. It also did not help that her husband’s girlfriend added to that by choosing money over him. Power might be satisfying, but it is rarely fulfilling, and that meant that Hwa Ran never stopped craving love, the lack of which made her spiteful. If it was only about power, she already had more of it than Gu Won, but she wanted him to have nothing because she blamed him and her father for the lack of love in her own childhood. The Chairman was inattentive regardless, but he may have spent some more time with her if Won and his mother had never entered the picture. Wanting him to have nothing was Hwa Ran’s revenge for her loneliness.
Hwa Ran must have loved her son, Ji Hu, but for the longest time, she failed to see that he was her one shot at unconditional love for herself. She had been so consumed by needless power struggles and disappointments that she could not see Ji Hu just standing there, ready to take care of his mother and be with her. She had previously been snide with Gu Won, refusing to acknowledge him as family and refusing to hear his concerns about Ji Hu. But when she came to a point where there was nothing else to be done, she finally listened to him when Won asked her to avoid giving a life like theirs to Ji Hu. It was probably the first time that she noticed the way she had been neglecting the needs of her son was similar to how she had been neglected as a child, and this time, it was her fault.
When Hwa Ran dragged Ji Hu out of the airport, it was the start of a new life for her, one where she would be more inclined to love. She had craved love and acceptance all her life but never looked for them. Yet she had been lucky enough to be blessed with it in the form of her son, so there was no reason for her to let it go. This acceptance of love must have softened her, which is why she was not hostile towards Won’s mother at the wedding.
Hwa Ran is an interesting character that has been presented in a somewhat boring way. It’s not exactly the writers’ fault since the focus was on the love story and not Hwa Ran’s sob story (forgive the insensitivity). Maybe in another universe, in another drama, someone like Hwa Ran will get more screen time and better representation.