Yes, Hong Gil Dong is silly and its comedy tends to the broad, but don’t get me wrong — the series isn’t entirely without cleverness. If it seems over-the-top and mindless, it’s because its humor is low-brow, but the writers do manage to sneak in some sly wit. I wouldn’t call it an intelligent show like, say, Devil, but neither is it completely stupid.
SONG OF THE DAY
Instant Romantic Floor – “Twist in My Love” [ zShare download ]
EPISODE 3 RECAP
Gil Dong tells the bandit gang to run away before they’re caught and killed, but naturally, the bandits are wary of the stranger in their midst. In their defense, Gil Dong doesn’t exactly make the most persuasive case for himself — his seemingly careless attitude clashes with his dire warning. Eventually he’s able to convince them, but by that point it’s too late because the army (soldiers? guards? can’t find the perfect term) is already on its way. There’s no way to retreat without being seen.
(The two head bandits are MAL NYEO, pronounced “mal-yuh,” and SU GEUN, pictured below.)
The bandits try to come up with escape strategies while Gil Dong sings what sounds like a Buddhist chant, but — and this is what I mean when I said the show can be witty at times — after each bad idea proposed by hotheaded Su Geun, Gil Dong chants in a low monotone, “If you do that… you’re all gonna dieeee…” and “Aum… that’ll get you killed too…”
They ask Gil Dong for advice, and Gil Dong quickly draws up a plan, telling them they have to follow his commands exactly. Su Geun (being male and therefore feeling threatened, but in a humorous way that isn’t dangerous) doesn’t trust Gil Dong’s leadership, while the other two recognize Gil Dong’s abilities and follow his instructions. Mal Nyeo even bats her eyes a little at Gil Dong’s dashing bravery. And who can blame her?
The plan is simple, but it works because the incoming army underestimates the thieves. First, Gil Dong instructs the bandits to bang drums and cymbals loudly, as though they’re amping up for a big raid. After making enough noise to attract attention, Gil Dong suddenly instructs everyone to be silent. They hide, while the army, following the noise, arrives at the deserted gathering spot.
Then, Gil Dong resumes drumming from a distance to divert the men elsewhere. The soldiers rush off, and now the bandits are free to make their escape. Gil Dong goes on his own way, and the thieves acknowledge that he just saved them.
Meanwhile, Grandpa suggests that he and Enok stay at the temple for the time being. Enok, who’s been in a funk since her dear husband left for China, doesn’t know why she’s feeling so gloomy, but Grandpa guesses Gil Dong is the reason. He thinks of how much she’s grown up, and remembers the first time he saw her.
In a flashback, a young(er) Grandpa holds a crying toddler-age Enok as her mother lies dead and bloodied in the road. Enok’s been with him ever since, for the past twenty years.
Also occurring twenty years ago, exposits Lady Noh to one of her allies, was the murder of a certain government minister. The reason for her interest in the thieves now becomes clear: with the guards leaving their city posts to chase the thieves, Chang Whe and his crew have an opportunity to smuggle in munitions. With the help of the weapons, they’ll be able to steal a particular sword, which is connected to the minister’s unsolved murder and the circumstances surrounding the king’s ascension to the throne. The sword-wielder’s identity is unknown, but there’s only one person around the current king it could be. He was also the one responsible for the fire that killed the queen.
Gil Dong makes his way back to the city, since he missed his boat to China, and sees Chang Whe and Chisu, starting to put two and two together. However, as the guardsmen were unsuccessful in finding the bandits, they return early, and the magistrate has a fit, realizing they’ve been had. He commands his men to search the city and find the culprits, and Chang Whe realizes he’s about to be caught red-handed.
So, he instructs Chisu to take their smuggled goods to a safe place while he creates a diversion — in the form of a primitive grenade. For this, he’s chased into the city (wherein he hides and disguises himself as a peasant).
Gil Dong’s amused curiosity leads him to follow Chisu, and he sees where they hide the arms. Afterward, he returns to the marketplace — and interrupts the entire marketplace celebrating Gil Dong’s departure.
Meanwhile, Enok spies the disguised Chang Whe and automatically hides (since Chang Whe’s accused her of following him). She grabs what looks like a brass pot, but accidentally drops it; it crashes to the ground loudly.
Chang Whe’s pursuers close in on the marketplace, trapping him, and when the shopkeeper demands Enok buy the pot since it’s damaged now, she starts to argue. Chang Whe buys it immediately to prevent a scene.
Enok mistakes his tactical move for romantic interest; he further compounds the misunderstanding when she’s about to leave after thanking him for his gift, and Chang Whe (needing her cover) takes her hand, saying, “Stay with me a little longer.” They wander the village together, and Chang Whe’s stoic demeanor cracks a teensy bit listening to Enok talk about her life. He even seems to feel sorry to hear that Enok’s an orphan. Or perhaps it’s commiseration, since he’s also orphaned.
Elsewhere in the marketplace, Eun Hye shops with her beleaguered nanny. Eun Hye looks at some showy jewelry, giving her nanny heart palpitations because those are things that gisaengs (courtesans) wear. While her nanny runs errands, Eun Hye slips away and makes her way to the gisaeng house.
Inside, she looks around at the empty parlor area, enjoying her exploration until she comes upon a stranger — Gil Dong.
Gil Dong asks if she’s a new girl, and Eun Hye tells him she is. He wonders who’s sold her into this lifestyle (a drunk father? scoundrel brother?) and she answers that she came of her own accord to avoid a worse fate. Gil Dong scoffs, recognizing that this is no place for her. Eun Hye tries to act bold, but Gil Dong calls her bluff —
He swoops her into a backward dip, and she reflexively cringes and tells him to let her go. He makes his point — “See? A gisaeng has to deal with men she dislikes. No fun, is it?” — and releases her. Despite her composure, it’s clear that Eun Hye’s a sheltered upper-class girl, her fascination with the underside of life notwithstanding. She identifies herself, then asks his name; he tells her there’s no need for her to know, since he’s leaving soon. As he struts off (to talk to a gisaeng about Chang Whe and his contraband), Eun Hye smiles: “Interesting.”
Elsewhere in the gisaeng house, In Hyung gambles and pleads with other noblemen to help him cheat at the upcoming civil service exam. (For some reason, I can’t help but like In Hyung. Maybe it’s because he’s so unabashedly cowardly. He knows he’s going to fail, so he must have a clue as to his own inferiority.) Another gambler wonders if Gil Dong can help by creating a diversion, and sends for him.
Gil Dong bows and addresses In Hyung in honorific terms, while In Hyung’s previous desperation fades as he sneers at the low-born Gil Dong. They make their proposal, and In Hyung further taunts, “Wasn’t it your greatest wish to take the exam?” He laughs with the others, telling them how determined Gil Dong used to dream of taking the exam, not knowing bastards can’t do so. If he helps them, he’ll get to see the inside of an exam room.
The gibe strikes home, but Gil Dong turns down the offer, which infuriates In Hyung. But the nobles sense they’re about to be humiliated by being rejected, and save face by saying they wouldn’t entrust such a guy with such an important duty anyway. Sour grapes!
Gil Dong arrives at his father’s home, and the first thing In Hyung’s mother does is slap him for daring to lay a hand on her precious son. She hates Gil Dong, which probably means that deep down she recognizes that he’s smarter and more capable than her own son. She grumbles about Gil Dong gambling and whoring, then wonders where In Hyung has gone. Gil Dong tells her politely, “Milady, I say this only because you are worried. He is currently gambling at the whorehouse.” Ha!
Gil Dong starts to leave to head to the temple, but runs into father:
Minister Hong: “Why didn’t you leave? Did you think I didn’t know you were standing in front of my window last night?”
Gil Dong: “Then why did you do nothing? If a servant runs away, isn’t it the law to catch and kill him? Isn’t that what you did to my mother?”
His father tells him he knows how Gil Dong is wasting his life: “I don’t want to see you anymore.” Gil Dong feels the sting, but tells him calmly that he will leave: “The next time you see me, act as though you don’t know me.”
At the temple, Hae Myung and Grandpa Heo engage in yet more of their silly competition (must be some kind of basic male impulse. I’d call it dick-measuring, but one of them’s a priest; gotta show some respect, no?), this time over a piece of rice cake. I admit that as stupid as this joke is, I laugh because it’s so exaggerated. Plus, the friendly-combative sparring relationship between the two men mirrors that of their charges, Gil Dong and Enok, adding an interesting element to the foursome.
Meanwhile, Enok giggles over her new prize possession, cleaning it in the river. Gil Dong comes upon her and watches, amused, as Enok’s pot drifts away on the current. And while I just thought it was some kind of ordinary bowl, Enok chases after it, yelling: “My chamber pot!”
HAHAHAHA. (And then she falls into the water.)
Gil Dong recalls the day before, when he missed the boat — and therefore heard Enok shouting her goodbye speech from the pier. He smiles, figuring, “Still, I guess there was one person willing to see me off.”
And then he experiences an uncomfortable moment when he glimpses, perhaps, the first hint of her feminine charms. Which is ridiculous (in a funny way) because Enok is not exactly channeling sea goddess appeal here — she looks more like a drowned otter than a bathing beauty. I’m going to guess that’s the point, which makes it hilarious.
(And then, time for another toilet gag as he notices something weird — Enok has pooped in the water! Disgusted, he turns away.)
At the temple, a dried-off Enok sees Gil Dong and can’t believe he’s back. She rushes to give him a welcome hug, but he’s still grossed out and refuses to let her touch him. Still, he muses, “Well, there’s one person who’s glad to see me back.”
Enok asks why he came to the temple instead of home, and he tells her his father doesn’t want him around.
Enok: “Was your reason for wanting to go to China because of your father?”
Gil Dong: “I left because I didn’t like seeing him, but it turns out he dislikes seeing me too. Well, that works out.”
Enok: “You must be upset.”
Gil Dong: “Yeah, I’m really upset that I couldn’t go to China.”
Enok: “No, not that. Aren’t you upset because your father said he didn’t want to see you? It wasn’t because you especially liked China that you were leaving.”
She tells him, “Jiayou!” (which I presume is the Chinese way of saying, “Fighting!”) Gil Dong: “Hey, so you do know how to cheer up your husband.”
And then he eats the candy Enok gives him, and notes its weird taste. Enok tells him it was in her pocket and got wet in the river — and Gil Dong realizes it was there when she, um, relieved herself in the water. Horrified, he spits it out.
The increasingly guilt-ridden king — whose intense, crazed acting is really wonderful — wants to move into a different palace to escape the ghosts here. Minister Hong (Gil Dong’s father) argues against building a new palace, but the king insists:
“This place is haunted with ghosts at night. I can’t sleep. They say, ‘Kwang Whe, give up the throne. Kwang Whe, give up the throne! Save me! I’ve been wronged. … Minister, don’t you hear the voices of the minister you killed? Didn’t you also kill your friend?”
That causes a suspicious look from another minister, but when he brings up the issue, Minister Hong quickly shuts him down, telling him not to believe the king’s incoherent babblings.
But of course, the king speaks the truth — because Minister Hong is the one who currently possesses that engraved sword. A flashback shows us that he had indeed killed a minister “in order to protect the secret of this sword” and to guard the king’s place on the throne, destroying opposition who believed the throne should go to Chang Whe.
Enok takes Gil Dong to a commerce agency to buy another ticket to China, and runs into Chang Whe and his entourage. Enok greets him openly since she thinks they’re friends now, but Chang Whe’s busy with his matters and denies knowing who she is.
Hae Myung tells Grandpa Heo that he looked into Enok’s future, and saw that she would be a queen. Grandpa figures that’s possible, because she could have come from a noble family — he knew virtually nothing about her when he found her with her dying mother years ago. Another flashback now shows us that Enok’s mother died through more evil misdeeds — again led by Minister Hong. Because Grandpa Heo had seen the minister’s face in the shadows, it can only be a matter of time before he connects the dots.
Angry and hurt over Chang Whe’s cold dismissal, Enok wanders around glumly while Gil Dong tells her she’s better off forgetting him. Gil Dong listens to Enok as she vents, vowing, “The next time I see him, I’ll act like I don’t know who he is!” She kicks a stone in frustration — sending it hurtling right into a beehive. (There’s an Amy Winehouse/coke joke in here somewhere, but I’m tired.)
The bees awaken and begin to swarm, sending Enok and Gil Dong racing through the woods to escape.
They jump into the water and stay under until the swarm disperses — but when it’s safe to surface, Enok finds her foot caught on some heavy rocks. Gil Dong tries to free her, but she’s firmly stuck.
Quickly running out of oxygen, Enok starts to lose consciousness…
So Gil Dong does the only thing he can think of. He surfaces for air, grabs a mouthful and swims back under to deliver it …
Catchphrases and motifs:
The Hong sisters are known for spawning popular phrases in their previous dramas (“Mind your own business!” and “What a joke!” in Chun Hyang, “Basshya” and “You will be blessed” in My Girl, “What a pitiful sight!” in Fantasy Couple), so it’s only fitting that they’d continue their tradition here. While one singular phrase has not yet emerged, there are a few recurring ones that may become Hong Gil Dong‘s trademark catchphrase. For instance:
Gil Dong often extricates himself from other people’s business by saying, “What do I care?” or “What does that have to do with me?”
Gil Dong and Chang Whe both refer to Enok frequently as a fool (meong-cheong-yi), which they initially meant literally. But both are gradually softening their usage of the term when Enok does something cute, becoming more like good-natured ribbing or a joking endearment.
Eun Hye’s life currency seems to be (cruel?) amusement — things are measured not by usefulness or beauty or wisdom etc., but by their entertainment value. After each encounter with a person or thing, she sums up her opinion with a flippant, “How boring” or “How interesting.” (Note that In Hyung = no fun. Gil Dong = fun.)
And Enok has mentioned, on a few separate occasions, her rash of good and/or bad luck. Not sure if it’ll continue, as it was mostly in Episodes 1 and 2, but it’s worth noting that the series theme song echoes the same line, “I’ve got great luck.”