Kind of a boring episode. What I enjoyed about Strongest Chil Woo last week was its absurdity — the over-the-top action and goofy tone. Today we got an attempt at a serious episode with acting that attempted to match the story’s tone, but Chil Woo‘s strengths (if you can call them that) don’t lie in dramatic tension or tight, suspenseful plotting. It’s stupid and corny and that’s what I want to see (not because I don’t like better shows but because I know that this isn’t one of them). It’s like Drew Barrymore trying to act British, or Tyra trying to be Oprah — you lose the fun factor of what makes them entertaining when they try to reach above themselves.
SONG OF THE DAY
Alex – “Miss Understand” [ Download ]
EPISODE 3 RECAP
Episode 3’s Villain of the Day is this asshole, an unruly son of a nobleman who enjoys killing little animals and people for fun. Well, I’m not sure he kills animals but I’m betting that’s how he worked his way up to his current game, which involves scoping out unsuspecting targets at night and stabbing them as he rides by on horseback. His band of hoodlums cheer on, led by the tall, stupid one with a giant mole on his face, as Noble Asshole mows down a blind man and old woman.
Next, he sets his sights on this father-daughter pair (you’ll recognize the girl as Han Ye-in of Coffee Prince), but has to settle for only one kill because the daughter leaves first. Dad, a night watchman, is killed, but our White-Veiled Assassin Noble Scholar (real name Min Seung-kook) witnesses the scene and challenges the killers. A short fight ensues, during which his veil is sliced off to reveal his face.
The dead man’s daughter comes back to see her father lying dead on the bridge, just as Chil Woo happens upon the scene (what coincidence!) and everyone becomes aware of policemen approaching. Everyone scatters, but not before the daughter gets a good look at White-Veiled Min’s face as well as the Mole-Faced henchman.
At work the next day, Chil Woo’s department is apprised of the bridge deaths, which now number sixteen (not a great showing for their police department). But the Noble Ass’s Villainous Cabal isn’t afraid, because they’ve got a plan — they disseminate drawings of Min in his white veil, naming him the murderer. Chil Woo doubts that Min is the culprit, but he doesn’t have much to go on. He goes off to confront Min, but finds himself shot with a drugged dart, and falls unconscious.
When Chil Woo wakes up, he’s tied up in a shed and Min demands to know what his deal is. Whose side is he on? Why did he kill Heo Won Do? Chil Woo explains the death of his sister and her adopted father, and Min deflates in disappointment, “Ah, so you were out for simple revenge.” He bemoans, “Where has it gone?” and Chil Woo asks, “Are you talking about that document?”
Chil Woo takes advantage of Min’s surprise, catching him off-guard long enough to work himself free of his bonds and turn the tables. This time, Chil Woo asks the questions.
Chil Woo deduces that Min came after Heo to recover the document, which Min reveals is the reason for his colleagues’ deaths. Min had been insistent on preserving the historical record. His colleagues, however, scared of what would happen if the prince’s murder were made known, and ripped out the pages and delivered them to Kim. They were all killed by a long-haired black-clad assassin (er, another one), whom we don’t see much of (but is played by Yoo Ah-in).
Chil Woo intends to kill Min to protect his own assassin identity, but Min stops him short by raising a series of questions. Chil Woo had considered his vengeance complete with Heo’s death, but Min wonders, what about Kim? Why was he killed? Why did he join the civil service because of that document? The story doesn’t end with Heo.
With a cry of frustration, Chil Woo doesn’t kill Min, and they arrive at a tentative truce, both wanting to find the true mastermind. Chil Woo warns Min about his current status, showing him a wanted notice bearing Min’s face.
Min then goes to the killer’s noble father to tell him that his son is the perpetrator, but is asked to keep the matter quiet.
So Yoon has caught the eye of Noble Douchebag’s entourage; upon discovering she’s a government slave, they believe that she’s been deliberately withheld by the officers when the noblemen request the, er, company of the government-kept ladies at various gatherings. This time they make sure to include So Yoon in their next hunt, a fact that Chil Woo finds out with horror.
The hunting party chase the women through the woods and shoot them with blunt-tipped arrows (they don’t pierce the skin, but they do knock the women down), probably to whet their appetites for more raping and pillaging to come after they’ve worked all that violence out of their system. ‘Cause nothing gets the ladies turned on more than being hunted down like animals and knocked unconscious with crude weapons. Mm, foreplay.
Noble Dickwad spies So Yoon and takes aim, just as Chil Woo grabs her and leads her away. They hide until it seems safe; then Chil Woo awkwardly lets go of her hand and leaves. So Yoon thinks she’s safe, but turns and finds herself in the scope of the hunter’s crossbow. This time he shoots a real arrow, embedding it into the rock next to her head, and approaches with a leer — as Chil Woo jumps in front of her.
But as Chil Woo is a lowly government official up against a powerful nobleman’s son, he tries to get out of this diplomatically, and conjures up a lie that he’s just trying to spare the guy some itchy-genital time because the girl is “dirty.” She’s crawling with hives, which is why all the officers keep far away. Asshat is suspicious, and calls the bluff — fine, then have the girl undress and show him the rash. Both gulp for a second, but Chil Woo holds up So Yoon’s arm, which is indeed covered in red spots. Asshat shudders in disgust and rushes away to get far from her imaginary plague.
Chil Woo had remembered So Yoon’s allergic reaction to peaches (which he’d grabbed in the few second he’d stepped away), and after the danger passes, he mixes her a paste (at the Hong Gil Dong river?) to put on the rash. She’s grateful for his help, but does ask in a tone that belies her sense of shame, “Am I really a dirty person?”
Chil Woo says no, and fumbles to explain what he meant, but she tells him he’s right — she’s a bad person, and he should stay away. Clearly she’s still in love with him, so much so that she wants to spare him the inevitable pain of being with her, and warns him away. They both look longingly at each other and take out engraved rings they both wear around their necks (old-school couple rings!).
Meanwhile, the orphaned daughter is still on her mission to find her father’s real killer, and desperately asks people if they recognize her drawing of the Mole-Faced accomplice. She recognizes Min from the bridge and begs for his help, but he’s just agreed to ignore the incident and tells her, “I saw nothing.”
Chil Woo, however, does want to help, and takes the drawing to his department, although his eagerness to resolve the case is overruled by his boss.
Citizens, mostly low-born, gather together to air out their grievances with the king’s officials, which is a practice supposedly meant to give the people a venue for justice but seems to be overrun mostly with corruption. (Upon hearing that So Yoon is likely to attend, Chil Woo asks his father to give her tips on how to behave so as to stay out of trouble, which his father does. Chil Woo, however, doesn’t trust his father to have done so adequately and seeks out So Yoon himself, telling her the exact same advice (stick to the edge of the crowd, not the front or the back), which elicits a smile from her.)
When a group of men start on their catalog of complaints, they’re dragged before the king’s official and accused of being the bridge killers. Obviously they’ve been picked as easy scapegoats.
The unlucky men are rounded up and sentenced to death. The ever-dutiful daughter does her best to appeal to the crowd, insisting that the wrong men have been caught, but nobody responds to her pleas. Not Chil Woo, who has no power to do anything about it, nor Min, who has chosen to remain quiet because of political pressure. The daughter once again begs Min to say something, but he doesn’t. He watches silently with tears in his eyes as the men are executed.
At home, Min feels so wrought with guilt over selling out his integrity that he takes the crossbow (the bribe from the nobleman) and points it at his own throat. But he’s not SO guilt-ridden that he’d pull the trigger. Well, he pulls the trigger, but deliberately misses.
Meanwhile, the Douchebag son is reveling in his freedom until he hears that the daughter is still running around insisting the real killers are still at large.
That night, Chil Woo displays a lack of appetite while his mother and grandmother sigh over the injustice of the poor men who were wrongly killed, shoveling food into their mouths while saying, “It’s so pathetic I can hardly eat.” It’s interesting how they all are aware of their government’s cruelty and corruption, and yet they’re not angry — more resigned.
Perhaps the moral turpitude is so rampant that many feel there’s no use trying to fight it; it’s better to steer clear of trouble and keep your head low. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re ruled by a government so self-serving and dishonorable that it willingly enslaves innocent men to further its own political agendas and cover up its own misdeeds. It’s a good thing that’s all stuff of the past, eh?
Chil Woo runs into Min and demands to know who it was that killed the night watchman on the bridge. Just then, as timing would have it, the daughter stumbles out of her home, mortally wounded with a slash across the throat, having been visited by Mole Face and Asshat to silence her about their identities.
You’ve got to give it to the girl, she knows how to deliver a cutting reproach even as she’s dying, and tells Min, “You could have said just one word…” She gives him two rings — for her upcoming wedding — and asks for justice just before she drops dead.
Min struggles with his own emotions, and it’s Chil Woo who responds first — his sense of justice runs into no political barriers, and he assumes the charge to avenge her death. He laboriously produces one tear to express his sorrow, then grabs the rings and walks off purposely.
His slow-mo strut is interrupted by Min, who stops him to claim the job of revenge as his. Chil Woo reminds him that he’s a nobleman, not an assassin, but Min answers, “I wasn’t an assassin till just now.”
And then, both men head off to their respective hidden costume lairs — Chil Woo’s even has smoke! — to garb themselves in their nighttime assassinwear, Chil Woo in black, Min in white. I want this trumpet-music-scored, smoke-filled, backlit dressing sequence to be in EVERY SINGLE EPISODE because I could sure use a guaranteed laugh in every hour. It is SO GAY. And good lord, I want more of it.
This, by the way, is 1 hour and 5 minutes into the episode, and the FIRST hint of any sort of fun spirit in an hour of dreary tedium. (By the way, in addition to the pomp-and-circumstance of the blaring trumpets, we also have a heavily distorted guitar riff running through the hero music, and I SWEAR every time I hear it I’m expecting it to break into the Top Gun theme song. You know which one I’m talking about. I would sing it to you now if only da-da-da’s translated into words.)
The two assassins (White Veil and Gay Jesus) ride off into the moonlight on side-by-side steeds, galloping into the forest where Chil Woo is first to encounter the Blockhead Brigade. Mr. Douchewad is unimpressed (but really, with Chil Woo looking like that, would we be either?) until Chil Woo snaps his whip around a tree branch and swings into the air to knock a henchman off his horse. Douche trembles a bit in nervousness, but then he PULLS OUT A GUN (yes, Google tells me it’s technically possible — but still, a musket, here?) and shoots at Chil Woo.
He rides off, but Chil Woo smirks because he knows Min’s at the other end of the road. By now I’m thinking to myself that Min’s lucky that the musket already fired, but then Noble Jerknuts FIRES AGAIN (maybe automatically reloading muskets are his magical secret weapon). Min raises his crossbow and shoots the guy in the chest twice, killing him.
Chil Woo reminds Min that they’re not done yet — they’ve still got a group of minions to take out. Min feels the need to remind Chil Woo that although they’re working together, he doesn’t enjoy it, and doesn’t intend to work together ever again. (Famous last words.) Chil Woo’s tells him the same, and they go off in search of their next targets.
Except, when they arrive, ready to launch into a fight, they find that someone has beaten them to the punch. Er, stab wound.
The group of ruffians lies dead in the midst of their revelry, all sporting the same reverse “z” carved into their chests. It’s their mystery assassin!
As I mentioned above, in my opinion Chil Woo is best embracing its fun, action-adventure tone and running headlong with that. Everyone knows this is nowhere near a real sageuk — and I don’t think that’s a bad thing — so I think it can get away with a lot more than it does. For instance, before Hong Gil Dong sunk itself with doom and gloom, it was in-your-face with the “fusion” part of its identity, harboring little pretension of historical accuracy.
That ties in to my reaction to Eric’s acting… and let me put this in nice terms. Eric is capable of acting decently in contemporary dramas. The reason his acting didn’t bother me much was because as a fusion drama, I didn’t hold him to traditional sageuk standards because that’s not the point. But when the fusion sageuk goes weak on the fusion and tries to amp up the sageuk, well, everything that makes this drama NOT a sageuk is highlighted, and it’s not exactly pretty.
Eric’s characterization of Chil Woo is pretty bold with the goofy assassin part of the role (he carries off such an audacious swagger that I don’t know whether I should be embarrassed for him or impressed at the chutzpah), but he seems pretty disconnected from the character’s emotional depths. Kang Ji Hwan was fantastic at merging those two aspects of his Hong Gil Dong, but I don’t think Eric has that same ability. So I’d rather that the story work with what he’s doing well. Bring on the funny!