Hong Gil Dong: Episode 5
Another good episode! The episode moved fast and solidified the conflicts on all sides. What really works with the story setup is that there aren’t just two sides, good and evil, right and wrong. There are multiple parties all angling for power or status or self-preservation — Gil Dong, his father and brother, Chang Whe and his loyalists, the usurper king, Eun Hye and her power-drunk father, the bandits — and when you have multiple parties overlapping, operating under differing motivations, you get very twisty dynamics. Also, we see the true beginnings of the legend take shape.
SONG OF THE DAY
Every Single Day – “톰 소여의 일기” (Tom Sawyer’s Diary) [ zShare download ]
EPISODE 5 RECAP
Gil Dong, cornered at the thieves’ headquarters, fights the authorities briefly like a Chosun-style Neo holding off an army of red-bandana’d Agent Smiths. But still, he’s no superhero, and manages to escape through human means, not paranormal — he makes his way to the weapons store and tosses out explosives, which keep the men at enough of a distance that he can slip away.
Back at home, In Hyung is freaking out over the dark turn his simple cheating scheme took. He doesn’t believe Gil Dong is the killer — he saw the injured intruder with his own eyes — but his cold-hearted mother takes advantage of the uproar to steal money. After all, that’s why they staged the entire robbery in the first place.
Worried but unaware of the severity of tonight’s events, Enok chatters on while attending to Chang Whe. Because he’s unforthcoming about his injury, Enok speculates — is he a criminal? a thief? — and Chang Whe takes offense. He draws his sword and snarls, “Keep talking disrespectfully, and I’ll kill you.”
Hurt and insulted, Enok tells Chang Whe to shove it (paraphrasing here) and that she doesn’t have to help him. She turns to leave, and despite my inner chants for her to remember her grrl-self-respect and leave his ungrateful bleeding ass in the barn, she turns back and tends to him. Stupid sympathy.
Gil Dong puts the facts together and comes to the correct conclusion that he was framed — but by whom? For what purpose? He goes out seeking his answers, hiding from the authorities who scour town for him, first heading to Merchant Wang, who asks if he’s guilty. Btw, I hope no Chinese people are offended by Merchant Wang’s faux-Chinese babbling — his careless use of Chinese-sounding words (some real, some probably made up) are part of his character. (In other words, the joke ridicules Wang, rather than being some kind of Rosie O’Donnell-like “ching chang chong” nonsense.)
Gil Dong then heads to the gisaeng house for more info from a gisaeng, who thanks him for ridding them of the troublesome bandits. Gil Dong sighs, “I said I didn’t do it,” but it’s rather futile. Meanwhile, Eun Hye has arrived disguised as a nobleman, hoping to run into him. She spies In Hyung entering with a servant, turns away before he can see her, and hides in an empty room — only to find, moments later, that Gil Dong has also sought out refuge there.
Unfortunately for both of them, In Hyung’s a bundle of nerves and decides he needs privacy for his illicit exchange, and comes to the room with his servant to wait for his contact — he’s come to pay a man to rig the exam results. Not knowing they’re being overheard, In Hyung babbles on about passing the exam.
Behind the screen, Gil Dong and Eun Hye listen silently. Both curious about the other, Gil Dong points to letters in the screen to ask what Eun Hye’s doing here (or rather, “Why… you… hide?”). It’s a sweet and clever bit, both pointing out syllables to form their abbreviated responses. Eun Hye: “Tough spot. You?” Gil Dong: “Ditto.”
And then, to add another layer on top of that, we see little modernized versions of their exchange, written in IM-speak, as their voiceovers fill in the missing bits:
Eun Hye’s note: Glad 2 see u ^^ (Voiceover: “It’s good to see you again.”)
Gil Dong’s note: Total shock –_–;; Clothes odd — –; (“You really surprised me. What’s with the clothes?”)
Eun Hye’s note: Weird??? (“Why, does it look strange?”)
Gil Dong’s note: Ha… kekeke (“It’s funny.”)
After a fleeting moment of attraction between them (Eun Hye’s had the feeling before, but it’s a first for Gil Dong), things start getting serious on the other side of the screen. In Hyung mentions how he’s lucky that he’s getting off scot-free because everything will fall on Gil Dong, and that since all the thieves were killed, there will be no way to trace it back to In Hyung.
At this, Gil Dong realizes the truth and makes his presence known — and immediately, In Hyung falls to his knees, begging for mercy. Eun Hye watches from the sidelines and In Hyung’s man runs for backup while In Hyung grovels, saying it was all his mother’s doing, and that he didn’t have a hand in the deaths — “I didn’t have anything to do with that! I only hired them to break in!” In Hyung doesn’t know who’s responsible for the killing, but remembers that there was one man who made an escape, who’d been stabbed in the side, who wasn’t one of the thieves. He sputters, “I was sure you had nothing to do with the killing!”
Gil Dong tells In Hyung to clear his name, but In Hyung can’t stomach the idea of facing his father. He begs, “Gil Dong, please save me this once, I beg you! If Father finds out, I’m dead!” (Translation: “Better you than me, sucka!”)
He asks to be spared, and tries to bargain — Gil Dong’s going to China anyway, right? Gil Dong asks why In Hyung had to go to such lengths to frame him when he was going to leave for China anyway — “Do you hate me that much?” (Ouch, doesn’t that just make your heart bleed? Not only that, but while In Hyung speaks in familiar language — banmal — Gil Dong uses honorifics, and that just makes the indignity all the more glaring.)
Gil Dong calmly tells In Hyung to reveal the truth, and a desperate In Hyung tries to stop him — even calling him “aho,” a term used by a man for a close friend, or younger brother. That gives Gil Dong pause — and In Hyung takes advantage to grab a broken shard and stab Gil Dong in the arm. Might as well have been the heart. In Hyung runs off screaming for help, but Gil Dong remains still, in shock — and it’s clear that the betrayal of a brother hurts far worse than the blood gushing from his arm. Oh, Kang Ji Hwan! I’ll comfort you.
Gil Dong grabs Eun Hye (and In Hyung’s abandoned money purse) and rushes out, and asks her to be his witness, as nobody will believe his word. But Eun Hye can’t go with him, even though she feels for him — and she can’t explain why not. But she doesn’t have to, because her father has found her, having dragged the truth out of her nanny. When the nanny calls out to her, calling her, “Lady!,” Gil Dong realizes that she’s not a gisaeng after all. Understanding the realities of their class divide, he faces the authorities alone.
Surrounded, Gil Dong does the only thing he can think of — he grabs a handful of In Hyung’s coins and throws them in the air. The ensuing mad grab for money causes a distraction, enabling Gil Dong to escape.
Meanwhile, Minister Seo steps in to protect his daughter (who’s initially taken for Gil Dong’s accomplice), who returns home to her finery with sympathy for Gil Dong. “He’s very hurt,” she tells her nanny. “In body, in heart. I saw him get hurt. He’s really in an awful situation.” I feel compelled to add that she didn’t help matters, but I can’t hate her since I can understand her position. When push comes to shove (or stab), she’s really just a helpless little rich girl. For now. I’m cutting her a little slack to prove herself eventually. Or die a painful death.
For all their scheming, In Hyung and his mother are found out by Minister Hong after inspection of the dead thieves turns up a map of the Hong estate. Minister Hong realizes that if Gil Dong were involved, he wouldn’t need a map. Faced with the truth, In Hyung confesses and begs for forgiveness, while his mother pleads in In Hyung’s defense, assuming responsibility for the plan.
Minister Hong has only disgust and ire for his son who would completely throw “that innocent boy” to the wolves, who is at the moment freezing and alone, feeling the weight of multiple betrayals. He says dejectedly, “I can’t trust anyone in this world. Well, there’s nobody who’d believe in me either.”
In the morning, Chang Whe looks at a sleeping Enok and decides that she’s seen and heard too much: she must be eliminated. He draws his sword to her throat, but can’t bring himself to kill her, and in the end he compromises — he won’t kill her, but he’d better never see her again.
I’ll just say (for now) that gorgeous lighting and fancy footwork do not bring emotion to bland acting.
A “wanted” sign is posted for Gil Dong, which alerts the bandits to his plight. Remembering that they owe him for his help, they wonder if they ought to lend him a hand now that he’s in a bind. Yeon figures that he’ll seek them out if/when he needs their help, and they focus on their goal to take out Chang Whe’s people to avenge their leader.
And this is where the legend of Hong Gil Dong starts to take root, and I admit it’s pretty cheeky and sly — the villagers hear that Gil Dong had taken money from a corrupt rich man and dispersed it to the poor (setting in motion the Robin Hood-esque lore).
Gil Dong (recovered from his overnight sense of desolation) fixates on the one thing he knows — that the real thief-killer was injured with a stab wound to the abdomen. He seeks out a den of thieves — who happen to be enslaving women as prostitutes — and asks, “What were you doing last night?” The thieves answer, “Ah, so you came knowing what we did!” and challenge him to a fight. Gil Dong wins. Alas nobody has a stab wound; these aren’t the thieves he’s looking for. But since he’s there, he sets the grateful women free.
He then barges in on a different group of crooks — who are torturing men — and fights them (“What were you doing last-last night?” “Ah, so you came knowing what we did!” The next group: “What were you doing last-last-last night?” “Ah, so you know what we did!”) But again, no stab wounds. And again, he sets the captives free as a kind of afterthought.
Gil Dong couldn’t care less about any acts of benevolence — he only wants to clear his name — but news of each bandit raid and “rescue” operation reaches the villagers. They know Gil Dong too well to believe the stories at first, but eventually become more receptive to Gil Dong’s amazing change of heart with each new story. And a legend is born!
Enok hears belatedly of Gil Dong’s troubles from Merchant Wang and can’t believe he’d turn away a friend in need. Furious, she retaliates in the best way ever — she shouts to the villagers, “Merchant Wang’s not even Chinese! He’s from Jeolla province!”
She decides to post a notice so that Gil Dong might see it and meet her somewhere — but she doesn’t want to endanger him, and so she writes it in semi-code: “Meet at emergency CPR location. From: Dummy”
It’s kind of really adorable.
Gil Dong sees the notice and appears, even complimenting her for once for being clever. Her immediate concern is over his injury, to which he asks, guarded, “Aren’t you going to ask if I’m a murderer and a robber?” Enok tells him without missing a beat, “But you’re innocent, aren’t you?”
That takes him aback (so touchingly sad!) because nobody’s shown a care for him thus far. Gil Dong confirms he’s innocent, she accepts it without question, and he allows her to fuss over him. When she rushes back to grab food and medicine, he thinks (and this is becoming a pattern with Enok): “Well, there’s one person who believes in me.”
Actually, there are two — Gil Dong’s father also believes in his son’s innocence. However, there’s a key difference — he’s still willing to give up his bastard son to save his legitimate one. He tells a grateful In Hyung that he’ll cover up his mess this time — and as for Gil Dong, well, his fate can’t be helped. (Nooo!)
Chang Whe’s faction readies their plan to infiltrate the palace on the day of the civil service exam. In preparation, Chang Whe and Chisu scout the palace grounds while posing as construction workers, and come across Kwang Whe in the courtyard. The king senses something familiar about Chang Whe, although he can’t put his finger on it, and wonders where he’s seen him before. Could it be from all the CRAZY?
Without knowing exactly who or what Gil Dong is on a mission to find, Enok volunteers her aid. He’s just telling her not to get involved when she sees Chang Whe and mentions his side stab wound.
Instantly alert, Gil Dong asks about the injury. Realizing Chang Whe is the man he’s looking for, he takes off after him, following him to a large (textile? cloth?) warehouse.
Chang Whe asks, “Why are you following me?”
Gil Dong: “What were you up to five nights ago? Ah. I see you have no answer.”
And then, in a sudden clash, they fight.
I have said this before and I will probably say it many times again, but Hong Gil Dong is damn lucky to have scored Kang Ji Hwan. All fangirly adulation aside, he is not only perfect for the role, he elevates what could have been standard and rote slapstick-comedy material into something watchable, perhaps even good.
Jang Geun Seok, unfortunately, is not improving. Worse yet, he’s been reminding me in demeanor, character, and even facial characteristics of Kim Jung Hoon in Witch Amusement — and any comparison to that series in terms of acting, or story, or writing, is NOT a happy one. He’s so stiff and unable to EMOTE. Both he and Kim Jung Hoon strike me as attempting to branch out their acting skills by taking on a harder, colder character to balance out their previously softer images — but have come up short. Lemme tell ya, it’s almost unfair to have constructed the Enok love triangle in such imbalance — Kang Ji Hwan can dance circles around Jang Geun Seok like it ain’t no thang.
I can forgive the silliness — sometimes even corniness — of the series when it’s counterbalanced with emotional depth; Kang Ji Hwan provides that in spades. He brings earnestness and pain to the happy-go-lucky Gil Dong and grounds the drama. Sung Yuri’s not brilliant, but she’s decent, perhaps not in small part because acting with Kang Ji Hwan elevates her by proxy. Or osmosis. But Jang Geun Seok, who I swear I can practically hear counting the beats in between lines, growls, and sneers, is only cast into greater relief by coming up against Kang Ji Hwan, not alongside. In contrast, despite the fact that In Hyung is a much more craven, dislikable character than Chang Whe, I like him so much better — because the actor is so wholehearted in his sniveling. He shifts between In Hyung’s cowardice, bravado, and shallow superiority easily and instantly, and I find the character complex and interesting.