First, the answer to the question I know you’re all dying to know (lol): Yes, I am calm again.
I know it’s hard to believe, but I don’t actually haaaate Chang Whe — I can back off now that the knee-jerk rant has been exorcised. I still think he’s a disappointment as pertains to the execution of the character, and I don’t buy the “Actors can improve, so lay off” argument, because why should a viewer be told to restrain from criticism because an actor MAY, in the future, possibly improve? I care about his performance NOW.
But this isn’t a Jang Geun Seok bashing site, and he’s not terrible, just mildly disappointing in comparison to the other actors. I still reserve the right to wail on Chang Whe The Character whenever he deserves some virtual bitchslapping, though. Which may actually be less often as the story progresses. Perhaps.
SONG OF THE DAY
Hong Gil Dong OST – “나는 재수가 좋아” (My luck is great), the theme song to the series, by punkish-rock band No Brain. [ zShare download ]
EPISODE 8 RECAP
So, we are back to this: Gil Dong stands at the edge of a precipice, cornered by soldiers, facing imminent death. An arrow is shot; it hovers in the air for one split second that stretches into vastness. Some people claim that in the moment before death, your life flashes before your eyes. For Gil Dong, he flashes to one recent conversation he had with Hae Myung:
Hae Myung: “Are you saying you don’t care about whatever happens to this world?”
Gil Dong: “This world doesn’t allow me to do anything anyway. There’s no need for me to insist I can do anything about it.”
Hae Myung: “You cannot do anything, so you will do nothing. If you cast aside your life because it’s nothing, there will be no unfairness if you die, right? Place yourself before death — what do you think will happen? In that moment, the answer to how you must live your life will surely be revealed.”
Gil Dong is shot.
He falls over the cliff, with the priest’s words echoing in his head: “Find the answer to that question.”
The bandits carry the barely conscious Gil Dong away.
Kwang Whe takes back the sword, but is uneasy knowing that the true prince is still alive somewhere. That prince, meanwhile, receives the report that Gil Dong has died. Lady Noh assures Chang Whe that it’s good riddance: “It’s because of him that our plot was revealed.” Chang Whe counters: “If that hadn’t happened, the heads hanging in front of the palace now would be other men that I’d killed instead.” He wonders, “For me to live, how many others must die?”
Lady Noh reminds him not to soften; he’s the true prince. Chang Whe: “From the moment I emerged from that fire, I have never once doubted that. Not until that day, when he asked me that question.”
“That question” refers to Gil Dong’s challenge, asked on the day he struck a deal to die to cover up Chang Whe’s conspiracy:
Gil Dong: “So this is all to take your stolen place back from the king?… Why must you become king? Because you’re the legitimate blood prince? Just as I cannot be anything but a servant, being born to a servant, you were born to be king, so you must do anything to become king, is that it? As I promised, I’ll die. You’ll live on, so keep thinking about it — why it is that you must be king.”
Chang Whe admits, “I’ve never once thought about why I must be king.”
Eun Hye hears the news with shock and remorse: “I shouldn’t have left him like that. I should have gone with him then.”
Enok, on the other hand, refuses to believe Gil Dong is dead, and scours the forest for him. Sensing the futility of searching when she doesn’t even know where he died, she goes to Chang Whe’s headquarters and literally kicks and screams, throwing a tantrum to see him.
Chang Whe asks — with a pang of guilt? — “Why would you ask me for this favor? I have nothing to do with him.” Enok asks him to find out where Gil Dong was shot (he must know people in high places) — and tells him, “I saved your life, didn’t I? Well, Gil Dong saved mine twice. That means he’s saved your life.” More than you know, honey.
Although Chang Whe doesn’t agree with Enok’s stubborn belief that Gil Dong is alive, he can see she won’t give up, and offers to help find him.
For once, the villagers draw the right conclusions, thinking Gil Dong must have taken the blame for the conspiracy to save the rest of the men’s lives. They mourn his loss, feeling remorse for how they treated him. Well, better late than never.
Gil Dong stays with the bandits in hiding while he recovers slowly, though his spirits are gloomy. Su Geun wonders if they should tell Enok he’s alive, but Gil Dong says no: “She could have died because of me… If she thinks I’m dead, she’ll stop looking for me.”
Ah, but he underestimates her, because she continues to wander in search of him, clinging to hope.
At the gallows near the palace, a boy begs for the head of his father, currently on display, presumably to serve as warnings. Gil Dong observes with a pained heart, further angered as a self-righteous minister is carried by in a palanquin, seemingly oblivious to the suffering around him.
Gil Dong remembers Hae Myung asking him in the thieves’ graveyard:
“Is there a greater thief than the one who stole the lives of these wronged people buried here?”
And so, Gil Dong steals the heads to give them a proper burial, digging their graves fueled by anger at the unfairness of the world. For once he’s moved by Hae Myung’s question: “When you look at them, don’t you feel anything?”
Enok hears the heads were stolen and immediately thinks it must be Gil Dong’s doing. She races to the graveyard, too late to find him there, but with renewed hope.
Now full of resolve, Gil Dong asks the bandits for their help in his new plan. To their shock, he announces:
“I’m going to steal from the biggest thieves in this country.”
Gom enthusiastically throws his lot in: “Since it’s Gil Dong hyung, I’m in no matter what.” Yeon’s next: “I’ll trust you, Hong Gil Dong.” Then Mal Nyeo: “What’s there to life anyway? Messing with noblemen sounds like fun.”
Su Geun is last to join, mostly because he feels threatened as the group leader. He tells Gil Dong: “Let’s do it — but I’m still the boss here. I’m only following your directions because this is a special case.”
Phase one? Disgusting, but hysterical.
While the lofty ministers are parading around on their sedan chairs, the bandits ambush them with a spray of — ewww — human sewage.
Gross! But here’s toilet humor done right.
It’s effective, but merely the first course. (Was that tasteless — hehe — mixing a poop metaphor with a food one? Apologies.)
Before phase two gets going, first it needs a bit of windup and preparation. Gil Dong posts a proclamation in the village, announcing the bandits’ intentions to steal from the house of the most corrupt minister.
The bandits themselves — in their day jobs — help spread the gossip further, and pretty soon, the villagers are having a ball trying to predict which corrupt official will be raided. It even spawns a rash of betting. (People argue hilariously, “He’s the highest, it’ll be him.” “No, that minister was bribed most!” “The other one was bribed a lot too!”)
Now sure that Gil Dong is alive, Enok assures Chang Whe that his help is no longer needed. She’ll search alone. Chang Whe asks if she has proof he’s alive. She answers no, it’s just a feeling, but she’s sure she’ll find him if she keeps looking. (Enok tells herself, fighting back tears: “He promised, so he’ll come find me.”)
Lady Noh, eavesdropping, decides that something must be done to keep Enok in check. She tells Chisu to prepare a position for Enok within their organization — if she cannot keep Enok away from Chang Whe, she wants to at least keep a closer eye on her.
She also muses aloud, in that most helpful of plot devices — the monologue — that Enok is a peculiar name. The little girl Yoo Enok was named by Chang Whe’s own mother; she was meant to share a “special fate” with the prince, had she lived.
The king hears of the bandits’ announcement, and addresses his nervous ministers about the allegations of bribery. Surely his ministers aren’t guilty of such misdeeds! But, just in case, he threatens: “What’ll happen if you are met with burglary? Do not shatter my faith in you.”
The ministers bow and scrape and quiver fearfully.
Minister Seo has a comical conversation with In Hyung’s mother, worrying over the likelihood of being targeted. He whines in that way children do:
“If I were second in line, there would be no problem! I’m not the only one who took bribes. Everyone else took them too! I may have just received a little more, here and there. Why do they only go after the top guy?!”
In Hyung’s mother consoles him — perhaps someone else took more bribes and he doesn’t know about it. Seo has drawn up a list of the top five possibilities — but there’s no way around it, he’s one of the main targets, for sure.
She suggests — just in case! — that he post extra guards. Seo frets — doesn’t that make it obvious that he’s worried?
That night, all concerned officials stay up hoping they’re not robbed.
And, curiously, the bandits don’t rob any of them that night — which lulls the relieved officials into a false sense of security.
Instead, the thieves convene to throw their permanent support behind Gil Dong, anointing him leader: “We’ll all follow you now.” Su Geun even relinquishes the leader’s staff, making the gesture all the more significant.
Gil Dong accepts the responsibility, and they set out the next night, raiding not one but ALL of the lead officials’ homes.
Laughably, the ministers plead with Gil Dong — not to let them go, but to do their robbing quietly: “Go ahead, take everything!” “Just don’t tell anyone you robbed my house!”
Seo, for instance, can’t decide how to react, and blusters at the nerve of his intruder. Gil Dong tells him: “Yes, I’m a thief. Why don’t you raise the alarm that you’re being robbed?” Naturally, Seo can say nothing. He wants to simultaneously remain quiet and shout out; the strain makes him look like he just swallowed a fart.
I freaking LOVE their predicament — they cannot fight back, because that’s tacit admission of their corruption. So they have to sit back and watch themselves be robbed.
And, just as predicted, Gil Dong assures Seo that he was the top corrupt official.
As the bandits leave the property, Eun Hye, who’s sneaked out at the first sign of intruders, recognizes Gil Dong. Mal Nyeo wants to kill her because she can identify him, but Gil Dong asks for a moment alone.
I really dig Gil Dong’s response to Eun Hye — he may have felt a spark of attraction toward her, but after their last encounter, that window has closed. He doesn’t hate Eun Hye, because to hate her would be to assign her more significance than she carries in his life, but neither does he have affection for her anymore. She’s glad to see him, but he’s distant and cool.
Gil Dong: “I don’t have time to explain, and there’s no reason for you to have any interest in my business. Just pretend not to know me, like you did last time.”
Eun Hye: “About that —”
Gil Dong: “I got your apology message.”
As he leaves, Eun Hye stops him and issues an order, assuming a commanding air despite her nerves. She won’t give him away, under one condition. One month from today, he’s to meet her back where they’d met that rainy day. She escapes to her room (“I must be out of my mind’), excited and flustered.
The thieves exult in their bounty, and give Gil Dong the responsibility of deciding what to do with it, before he runs away.
Gil Dong: “I’m not running away. In almost dying, I realized a lot of annoying things. I won’t run away anymore.”
Since the world made it impossible for him to do anything, he figures, maybe he can effect some change by mixing things up, throwing things into upheaval.
Su Geun: “So you robbed to rebel against the world?”
Gil Dong: “That’s right, and I’m going to keep stealing. I’ll steal all the dirty, corrupt things in this world.”
Yeon: “Like these things here.”
Gil Dong says their stolen goods had all been stolen by the officials, so they must return this money to those who’d been stolen from in the first place: “That’s the proper way to divide the spoils.” He hands over the task of figuring out who those people are to Su Geun.
Su Geun’s answer? “The whole country.” That’s who the officials ripped off. But for now, this bounty will be divided among the families of the executed palace workers.
Gil Dong agrees (“Okay, I defer to your decision, leader”) and Su Geun thrills in being made leader again.
And so, mysteriously, the bereaved families find money delivered to their homes from out of nowhere. Most of these already poor people have been reduced to poverty and begging, and now they have been offered hope.
News of this reaches Chang Whe, who’s nearly convinced it must be Gil Dong: “The only people who would feel the most responsible for those men’s deaths are me and Hong Gil Dong.” (But Chang Whe, what have YOU done to help?) Chisu reminds him that Gil Dong is dead, but Chang Whe knows better: “Like me, he could live on while presumed dead.”
Once more, he recalls Gil Dong’s words (“Think over why it is you must be king”) and wonders, “If I were to meet him again, could I answer his question?”
Hae Myung seems pleased that Gil Dong has found his way, but wonders about Enok.
Hae Myung: “Do you intend not to see her again?”
Gil Dong: “This isn’t a path we can take together.”
Hae Myung: “She’s still searching for you. Will you leave her to wait for you, perhaps forever?”
Gil Dong: “I’ll have to end it, won’t I?”
Hae Myung delivers “proof” of Gil Dong’s supposed death and tells Enok that a body was found carrying a certain pouch — the one holding the dirt from Gil Dong’s mother’s grave (which the arrow pierced; I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume the measly pouch could have saved Gil Dong’s life, but it’s symbolic enough that the arrow went right through it on its way through Gil Dong’s chest).
Enok immediately recognizes it, and this time, she believes Hae Myung when he tells her, “Gil Dong is dead.”
After a moment of disbelief, she collapses, giving in to wrenching sobs — and, watching from a distance, even Gil Dong appears shocked at the intensity of her grief.
But it’s for her sake, he convinces himself, and he walks away.
Aieee, the angst! Actually, I find it welcome that although the relationship stuff, naturally, provokes some of the stronger emotional responses, I’m just as moved by Gil Dong’s obvious sense of empathy for the people — they’re not “his” people in the same sense that a ruler is responsible for his subjects, but they’re his people in that he’s one of them. But he’s in a position to do something about it, and therefore rises to the occasion. The reluctant hero is reluctant no more!