Episode 9 kicks off what seems to be phase two of the drama. The previous political intrigues and conflicts are still here, of course, but we introduce a few more elements and move forward into the next stage of the hero-making lore.
Oh, and Gil Dong gets a haircut. He’s still rocking the perm, though. Must mean his transformation is only half complete.
SONG OF THE DAY
Beautiful Days – “장미빛 인생” (Rose-colored life) [ zShare download ]
EPISODE 9 RECAP
Gil Dong’s legend grows after his supposed death, fed by people like Grandpa Heo, who uses a vastly embellished retelling of Gil Dong’s early life to draw in customers and sell them medicine. (His fictionalized version starts with Minister Hong having a lucky dream, which convinced him to hurry and conceive a son — who, being rebuffed by his wife, turned to a servant. Thus Gil Dong was born and became a model of competence, despite his ignoble birth.)
It’s been a year since we left off — yep, a year! — and normal life has resumed. Enok is especially excited because the ship from China arrives today, and rushes to greet its passengers. Namely, Chang Whe.
Chang Whe has returned from trying to locate a trafficker of explosives. Despite being unsuccessful in that endeavor, he’s relaxed enough to crack a smile at Enok’s enthusiastic welcome. He’s also brought back a new cobra for her to charm, per her request, which she receives excitedly.
In the intervening year, widespread rumors of Chang Whe’s existence have grown, but he’s still biding his time. Lady Noh asks him, “Are you still concerned about his [Gil Dong’s] question?” Chang Whe answers yes, because he’s been unable to find a clear answer to the question of why he must be king, if he can be king at all.
The sword, now in Kwang Whe’s possession, is occasionally used to accessorize his feverish monologues. He wonders, “What sword will you wield when you come to kill me?”
As for our hero…
Gil Dong is fully integrated into the bandit gang, who now target corrupt officials and raid their ill-gotten riches, then distribute them to the poor citizenry. This latest party is ambushed as they travel through the forest.
The bandits keep their headquarters in a remote mountain settlement. While Gil Dong leads the raids, Su Geun is still officially their leader.
In a storyline I wish the Hong sisters would lay to rest (it’s too cheesy, even in the context of kitsch), Enok thrills over her new cobra and thanks Chang Whe profusely. She invites him to her performance, where she anticipates raking in lots of money.
Chisu notices a change in his master, mentioning that around Enok, he looks more at ease: “It’s good to see you looking like that.”
But the cobra escapes from its container and slithers outside Enok’s room. Everyone freaks out and attacks the snake, which has slid under a tablecloth (low on production budget, KBS?), and their stomps kill it. And although I’m generally okay with Sung Yuri overacting, in this scene I could swear she’s fighting back the urge to burst into laughter instead of supposed tears. Or maybe the bit just doesn’t sit well with me, since she genuinely bawled over Gil Dong’s death just one episode prior. To immediately follow that scene of true grief with this goofy sobfest of the parodied kind merely highlights the difference. (Ergo this scene seems even stupider.)
Hae Myung drops by Bandit Village and receives news of their latest raid with glee (“Serves them right!”). He looks at the lazily sprawled Gil Dong, thinking:
“On one hand, it looks like nothing’s changed, but he continues to change. Bit by bit, your name will grow.”
Hae Myung fills Gil Dong in on news (his tips help the bandits coordinate their ambushes) and warns him to be careful because talk is spreading that the thieves are targeting a particular road. Hae Myung asks leadingly, “Is there anything else you’re curious about?”
Gil Dong maintains his cool and answers no; Hae Myung tells him, with meaning, “Everyone’s doing well.” They both know he’s referring to Enok, though they never mention her name. (Gil Dong tells himself, though, with a half-smile: “So she’s doing well. That’s a relief.”)
Ministers Seo and Hong confer. Seo has heard whisperings that Chang Whe may still be alive and wonders about the fate of the disappeared daughter (Enok) of the man Hong killed. It is now generally believed that Gil Dong had conspired with Chang Whe in the attack last year, and Seo worries, wondering if all three might still be alive somewhere. See, the man CAN hold a sensible thought when he’s not preening over his own self-importance!
Seeing Enok moping over her dead snake, Chang Whe offers to drink with her to cheer her up. Enok is hesitant to call them friends because of the difference in their positions (she calls him a “very high person”), but Chang Whe smiles and says:
“You don’t have to see me in that way, since I don’t see you as a lowly person. Strangely, you’re… comfortable.”
Enok berates Chang Whe for not remembering to do everything she’d suggested he do while in China (mostly food-related, naturally). Chang Whe suggests she go back to China — he can send her there on business — but that suddenly kills the mood. Enok stammers that she doesn’t want to go to China — she’d planned on going before and things didn’t work out. Chang Whe picks up on her sudden mood shift and notes, “I see, he’d asked you to go with him.”
Enok can’t stop her tears, and embarrassedly puts on Gil Dong’s cracked sunglasses to hide them. She excuses herself and hurries outside, where she quietly sobs to herself, remembering past times with Gil Dong.
At the same time, Gil Dong holds the bloodstained pouch Enok made for him, thinking similar thoughts. Enok had returned the pouch to Hae Myung, who in turn gave it to Gil Dong to either burn or keep. Gil Dong muses to himself, “I still… can’t bring myself to burn it.”
And now for the new Big Bad.
A girl runs through the woods, bound and battered, chased by her captors. In the morning, the thieves find her corpse in the woods, and guess that she must have run away to escape being sold into slavery. Gil Dong notices a peculiar bell worn around the neck, which must have been used so the guards could hear her. But who could be so evil?
It’s this guy, Choi Chul Joo, a mean ol’ bastard of a moneylender and general all-around skeeze. Angered that the girl got away, he orders his men to grab the girl’s younger sister — if the elder cannot serve as recompense for a debt, the younger will have to. No matter that the girl is merely thirteen years old: “Thirteen is still female, right?” That’s just a tremendously creepy line.
The younger sister is seized in the village; Chang Whe observes from a distance. Chisu informs him that when people cannot pay back their loans, the loan shark sells off the men as slaves and the women as prostitutes.
The same moneylending group advertises their services in the village, which Yeon and Su Geun overhear with disgust. With the lenders’ corrupt practices, the loans are almost always impossible to repay. They witness a girl arguing with the lenders, who accuses them of taking advantage of her poor blind father.
Su Geun is shaken at the sight of her, and spins into a flashback of a girl who looks just like her. He follows her home, where her blind father calls her Chung in what must be a reference to the famous folktale of Shim Chung (who sacrificed herself into the sea to save her father’s sight and is touted as an example of filial piety; the story was also reimagined in the lighthearted two-episode fusion sageuk Story of Hyang Dan).
As an errand runner for the merchant group, Enok delivers a package to Eun Hye (who’s still engaged to In Hyung, who’s now passed the military service exam). Their tone is civil, and Enok inquires about Eun Hye’s frequent temple-going, to which Eun Hye smiles and answers, “It’s fun. I enjoy it.”
Because, of course, she isn’t going to the temple. She’s going to meet Gil Dong in Banditville.
Nobody’s particularly happy at Eun Hye’s repeated visits. Mal Nyeo, firmly on Team Enok, grumbles that Eun Hye’s so sly and coy. She prefers Enok’s straightforward “I love you” approach. Yeon asks what that means, and she answers, “It’s something that ends incredibly sadly.” Oh Hong sisters, aren’t we pessimistic. I hope this is a mere joke and not a case of foreshadowing. I may have to hurt something if it is. Such as you.
Eun Hye and Gil Dong chat — he’s impatient, she’s undeterred. He clearly finds these visits unwelcome, but he endures because she can always threaten to turn him in. At one point, Eun Hye imperiously orders Gil Dong to lay large stones across the shallow water so that she may cross without wetting her feet. Annoyed at her attitude, Gil Dong grabs her, lifts her and deposits her on the other side of the shallow stream.
He yells, “What’s your problem? I met with you because you made it a condition for keeping our secret, but this is ridiculous!” He tells her to end it now, and stomps off. Unwilling to relinquish her hold over him, Eun Hye insinuates that she’ll turn him in for the recent raids: “I’ll be the one to decide when we stop meeting. You just do as I tell you.” She caps it off by telling him to take her back to the city. After all, there are bandits everywhere.
Back at merchant headquarters, Lady Noh meets with Choi Chul Joo, and the two come to an agreement. Lady Noh will provide him with a means of storing his “cargo” and shipping it to China, and he’ll supply them with their explosives.
Coldly pragmatic Lady Noh sees nothing wrong with the arrangement, but Chang Whe’s conscience is pricked. He doesn’t like the idea of mixing business with such an unsavory character: “So in order to get what we need, we must pay quite a dirty price.” Chang Whe thinks back to the young girl taken from her family to be sold as a whore.
The girl who is, at the moment, being kept in one of their own storerooms, bound, with a bell around her neck.
The bell worn by her dead sister, on the other hand, is in Gil Dong’s keeping. He delivers Eun Hye to the capital and looks around the marketplace for similar bells, hoping for a clue. Eun Hye’s curiosity turns to jealousy when Gil Dong answers that it has to do with some girl, and it’s none of her business.
He departs coolly as Eun Hye orders him to remember their next meeting in a month. After he goes, she says disappointedly, “I didn’t mean to send him off on such bad terms.”
Eun Hye reminds me of little boys who don’t know how to express their emotions productively and therefore resort to tormenting the little girls of their infatuations, and for that I can’t dislike her despite her commanding air. She can’t control Gil Dong the way she wants to — which is exactly why she likes him, paradoxically — so she pulls out all the stops, stooping to whatever means she can employ to gain his attention. The attention she does gain is negative, since it only irritates Gil Dong further, but she doesn’t know how to turn it positive and is too afraid to let go of him for fear he’ll leave her forever. O, immature love.
Eventually, Gil Dong does track down the shopkeeper who sold the particular bell to the moneylender — a hundred bells, actually. So Choi must’ve abducted that many girls.
Minister Hong advises Kwang Whe, who’s staring yet again at his shiny stolen sword. Kwang Whe says that Chang Whe has hidden as well as a ghost: “But he’s less frightening than a dead ghost. From the day I discovered my brother was alive, I’ve slept better.” Hong, ever the voice of reason, reminds him: “Even more frightening is public sentiment. Please take more care regarding the people’s lives.”
Kwang Whe goes off on his own tangent — gotta meet the scene-stealing quota of the day — and wonders when he started losing his mind. He decides it must have been when his father had the sword made for Chang Whe, for the express purpose of killing Kwang Whe, in the name of preserving the royal line. (Yeah, that’ll screw you up.) He’s all manic energy and repressed hysteria. The guy should do Shakespeare.
But back to Shim Chung.
Gil Dong notices Su Geun following Chung, and wonders at Su Geun’s fixation. She’s awfully young, even for his pervy self. But Su Geun reveals that he has no romantic intentions — Chung merely reminds him of his younger sister, who was sold off to pay for his debts when he’d broken his leg. Unable to save her, she eventually died, and now he wants to help this girl in whatever way he can. To that end, he’s brought food and supplies, intending to leave them at her home.
As irony would have it, just at the moment that Su Geun is explaining the circumstances, the girl is accosted by Choi and his men, who have come to claim her. She doesn’t have the money to repay the debt (borrowed in an attempt to recover her father’s sight), which has multiplied tenfold in mere months, and is dragged off.
Su Geun arrives too late, and rushes off to rescue her. But he’s unable to take on all three men by himself, and he’s beaten (rather easily, I must admit). Chung is dragged away.
Back in town, Enok realizes she’s misplaced Gil Dong’s sunglasses, and goes back to the warehouse hoping to find them. It’s after hours, and she was told that she wouldn’t be allowed in once the new merchandise arrives, so she plans to sneak in through the back door.
What she isn’t prepared to see is a storeroom crowded with tied-up scared girls.
Chang Whe arrives at the inn and is told by Grandpa Heo that Enok stepped out to retrieve something from the warehouse. At that, Chang Whe realizes Enok is unknowingly heading into danger, and rushes off to find her. (There’s a lot of rushing this episode.)
Injured, Su Geun stumbles back to headquarters. He pleads with Gil Dong:
“They… took her… Save… her…”
This episode was entertaining, but it also seemed rather contrived. It’s awkward to have established such a fast-paced, smooth flow to the series, then to screech to a halt, only to pick up a new storyline. The momentum had been propelling us so nicely through the end of Episode 8, but now we’ve skipped forward, and not entirely elegantly.
It was nice to see Chang Whe smiling for once, but it seems odd for his character to be so at peace when he still hasn’t figured out the answer to That Big Question, and has gotten little closer to his ultimate Kill Kwang Whe And Take Back My Throne goal. Also, although I find some overacting to be tolerable in a quirky series like this, there was just TOO MUCH in this episode.
I’ll be happy to see things settle down in the following episodes, since round two is now well under way.