I think this is the first episode that actually got me a little verklempt. I don’t know if I was in a funky mood or if it was the particular plot, but I thought Episode 10 stepped it up.
Part of Chil Woo‘s appeal, as discussed here, is its structure — rather than dragging out one epic storyline, every episode or two brings in new stories and new villains.
That’s also the reason I don’t mind that the bad guys are one-dimensional, cartoonish stock villains, since they’re just here to give Chil Woo and Friends something to fight and overcome. While there are a few overarching themes (like Prince So Hyun’s murder), the plot of each episode tends to be parsed into manageable, bite-size chunks. (Hong Dil Dong did this pretty well, too, until the end when they dropped the smaller storylines.)
Oh, and another warning of another rant ahead. Heh.
SONG OF THE DAY
Peter Pan Complex – “Magic” [ Download ]
EPISODE 10 RECAP
New bad guys. The ugly bald dude is a Chinese general, here to demand horses and yet more tribute brides or whatever you call them. (This time, Chil Woo & Co. chime in with the exasperated question, “Again?!?”) He swaggers in, acts pushy, and puts the king and the court at unease by suggesting that Prince So Hyun was murdered instead of dying by the “mysterious illness” as it is officially recognized.
The guy on the right is a former childhood acquaintance of Chil Woo’s who has since become a government official, acting as envoy to China. (I couldn’t quite make out his full name (Chi Seo, perhaps?) but his last name is Lee, so that’s what I’ll be calling him.) But because he’s a sniveling opportunist, he’s turned his back on his Korean heritage and aligned himself with China, eschewing Korea as a “poor, tiny” and powerless country. To convey what a jerk he is, the actor smirks a lot and talks in this funky sneering accent. It’s vaguely surfer-dude and totally hysterical.
Hearing of the general’s arrival, So Yoon requests to be transferred to the less pleasant task of tending to horses. Chil Woo worries that she’s doing this because she’s uncomfortable around him, but she hesitantly confides that it’s because of the general. He was in China when she’d attended Prince So Hyun and his wife, and she’s afraid he will recognize her. She wants to lay low while he’s in town.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister discusses Prince So Hyun’s murder with Heuk San. But he’s not too worried about the general’s suspicions, because isn’t it such a great thing how everyone involved in that incident is dead? OH, WAIT.
Because of the demand for more young maidens, daughters of noblemen are to be rounded up — all unmarried girls between 13 and 24. The police officers grumble at this injustice, wondering if they could hurry and get married before all eligible ladies are shipped off. (Way to make this about you, guys.) To prevent such an event, the king has decreed a temporary prohibition on marriage, so as to ensure the maximum selection pool of young virgins to sell into sexual slavery.
So Yoon tells Jaja to keep a low profile while the Chinese general is in town, since he may be recognized. Jaja wants to appeal to the general about his friend’s murder (believing naively that he’ll help) since Prince So Hyun never did anything. So Yoon defends the prince as having done his duty to his country, and reminds Jaja that the prince saved her from suicide and treated his people well.
Chil Woo overhears her fervent defense, and asks if she’d loved the prince. If so, he says gloomily, he’ll concede — the guy was a prince, after all. So Yoon tells him she’s disappointed he’d give up and walks on, smiling to herself, while Chil Woo registers what she meant by that.
One of the women eligible to be sent off is Min’s very own sister, Eun Hee (btw, I mentioned this early on but “Min” is actually his last name. I chose to call him that because Chil Woo and Jaja call him by last name rather than first, which is Seung Kook). Eun Hee begs her brother to use his name to save her from a horrible fate, but Min is unwilling to bend the rules, even for his sister. He tells her, grimly, that he can’t do anything. Yeesh, talk about cold.
In desperation, Eun Hee and her lover/boyfriend seek out other options. They, along with a father-daughter pair, ask Chil Woo’s mom and grandmother for help. None of their options are very pleasant: for instance, they could run off to a remote province, but they’d have to shave their heads and become Buddhist nuns, or have a doctor cripple them. So their lives are basically ruined in any case.
Lee, who is charged with rounding up the young women, recognizes Chil Woo and his father, but looks down at them for their lowly positions. He takes offense to the familiar way he’s addressed, causing Chil Woo to interject and attempt to calm him down. But Lee continues to throw his weight around and talk of how important he is, so Chil Woo answers that of course they’re all aware of his position as a high-ranking eunuch. HA. Lee gets even angrier and orders both of them to kneel, but Chil Woo wears a smirk that practically says, “It was still worth it.” ‘Cause you know how guys don’t like being mocked about their private parts. Particularly about not having any.
Chil Woo and Dad are sent to collect the young women from their homes, but one father explains that his daughter is deathly ill. One look at her confirms that she’s sick, and they figure they can exempt her.
And then we come to the scene that had me tearing up unexpectedly. The young women who are to be sent away have decided to become Buddhist nuns to avoid their fates, and have gathered in a secret location to undergo a head-shaving ritual. The girls sob as their hair is cut off, not so much at the loss of hair but at this irrevocable step — sure, they won’t have to become concubines to a foreign court, but they’re still giving up their lives and hopes.
But the officers discover the plan and burst onto the scene, interrupting the head-shaving. They roughly grab the women, tear them apart from their fathers and lovers and brothers trying to protect them, beat down anyone in their way, and essentially go all riot police on a scene where there’s no riot.
Sickened, Chil Woo watches, unwilling to participate but unable to stop them. Min’s sister Eun Hee sobs as her lover is knocked down trying to protect her, and she and the other women are dragged off for inspection like cattle to slaughter. Moo.
I kind of love the confrontation that erupts at the A-Team Headquarters that night, because it’s all angry and frustrated and intense. And Chil Woo yells at Min, which I found satisfying because Min is a big ol’ stupid jerkface for most of this episode.
Jaja is always the hotheaded one, first to insist they rush in and save everybody. Oh, Jaja. So dumb, so sweet. I got a little riled up with him when he insisted they set all the girls free. He saw how these concubines were treated when he was in China — they were viewed as toys and died miserably. Min, ever the principled nobleman, insists that rescuing these girls won’t solve the problem, because they’ll just demand more. Jaja shouts, “Then we save them again!” Min: “And if they drag off more?!” “Then we save them AGAIN!!”
Min has a point, but he’s just so defeated and fatalistic, saying they can’t do anything because it’s a matter of international diplomacy, and an effort to save a few people could lead to the deaths of many more.
Chil Woo tries to contain his frustration, saying with barely controlled fury:
“I hate that. Lofty noblemen reducing a person’s life to numbers. Saying, ‘You hundred die to save those ten thousand.’ Everyone’s only got one life. But still they make that demand. They’re not the ones dying.”
He glares at Min, who glares right back; Min challenges Chil Woo to suggest a solution. Chil Woo growls, “There is no solution. Which is why I feel so dirty.”
Lee realizes that Chil Woo hasn’t brought in a single girl. Chil Woo explains that each situation had an extenuating circumstance, which Lee doesn’t buy. He takes Chil Woo along and heads to the home of the nobleman with the sickly daughter, beating the man until the daughter comes out sobbing and begging for mercy. But she isn’t faking, because she coughs up blood. And yet, seeing proof of her sickness doesn’t stop Lee, who orders his men to keep beating the father until the girl finally says that she’ll go.
Lee turns to Chil Woo and tells him, “This is how it’s done.”
The women are then lined up for Lee’s “inspection” (purely based on attractiveness), and he judges each girl as either acceptable or unacceptable. All the while, Min silently watches as his sister undergoes this treatment.
Meanwhile, Chil Woo hears Eun Hee’s name and does some researching, discovering that she’s Min’s sister.
Brother and sister have one last moment before she’s dragged off, and she again pleads with him to step in and say something: “If you only said one word, I wouldn’t have to go.” But no, Min’s principles are more important than his sister’s life, because he tells her no. He tells her with some distress, “Sending you away is difficult and painful for me, too.”
Uh, fuck you Min. I’m sure you can think that to yourself while you’re in your cushy, comfortable home while your sister’s off being violated to “preserve” Korea’s diplomatic duty. Let’s see if YOU can manage to sit back on your moral high horse when you’re done being raped by your country and, oh yeah, actual rapists.
I’m not saying there’s much he can do about it, but he’d really shouldn’t be arguing HIS pain when he’s not even willing to stick his neck out to push for his sister’s life (he has a moment where he’s about to ask the King a question, then changes his mind). Eun Hee can’t believe he could do this to her, accusing him of using her for his political advancement.
At A-Team Central, Min again resists Jaja’s urging to free the slave girls. China’s preparing to war with Russia, and Korea is in a precarious situation.
Chil Woo doesn’t see things as so cut and dry, though, and disagrees. He tells Min that this is his blood sister he’s talking about: “She’s your family, your younger sister! She’s someone you’re supposed to protect! What’s so complicated about protecting your family? You want to help her, you want to save her too!”
Min struggles with his own principles, and says, “But there’s no way.” Chil Woo spits out, “A way? We’ve found one. A simple one.”
Woot woot! Time for our bastardized “Under Pressure” remix anthem!
The oh-so-simple solution starts by getting Chil Woo, Dad, and Min assigned to accompany the women to the Chinese border. The group is headed by Lee, and for most of the journey, the assassins remain quiet. Near the border, the royal entourage readies to head back (the women will be sent onward with the Chinese officials), at which point Min is asked to give a few parting words.
The women are told not to run away and keep in mind that they’re doing “their work on behalf of the nation.” (Yeah, you appreciate their “work” so much that you indenture them into slavery when they return and debase them as outcasts, right?) Min speechifies: “But do not despair, for despair becomes a disease of the people. Have hope, and endure through the end.”
Korean officers return home, the Chinese set up camp, and the A-Team makes their move.
They ambush the encampment dressed as Russian soldiers, shooting guns from horseback, killing the men while the women huddle together in fear. Lee emerges from his tent (his rape attempt on Eun Hee cut short) and is chased by the three horsemen.
Lee recognizes Chil Woo and begs for mercy, reminding him of how they grew up together. He blubbers that he’ll live a quiet life and resign from his post, which Chil Woo considers for a moment. But while the three guys pause to think over the possibility of sparing his unworthy life, Lee sneakily grabs for the gun. Min reacts first, swinging the gun away from Chil Woo and striking Lee down with a slash of his sword.
The Assassin Trio identify themselves to the women as Russians intending to drag the women off with them, which makes them sob in fear. Then Chil Woo clarifies that everyone will believe that’s what happened, so they are now free to return home to their loved ones. They need not fear a repeat occurrence in the future because they’ll be believed to have been dragged off by Russians.
Eun Hee reunites with her brother, thanking him for coming to her rescue after all. Chil Woo watches the happy scene with bittersweetness, recalling the sister he wasn’t able to save.
But while the happy group spends some time relaxing and playing water games, more sinister happenings are underfoot back at home.
The general is looking at horses when he recognized So Yoon from back when she served Prince So Hyun. He has her brought to him for questioning, and So Yoon attempts to deny it, nervously telling him that he has the wrong person. The general, however, is convinced he’s right.
Elsewhere, Heuk San hears with alarm that So Yoon was summoned to face the general, and gears up as Orroz to do something about it.
Stories like this really piss me off — not pissed off at the series, but at seeing women treated as subhuman in a way that, unfortunately, still exists today. Not everywhere, of course, and a lot of the sexism and crimes against women these days come in more insidious form. Actually, sexism I can deal with, but sexual crimes are a lot harder to stomach. The kind where women are treated as nothing but receptacles for sex. You know, that crass joke that reduces a woman to “two hands and three holes.” Nameless, faceless, and identityless, all they’re good for is fulfilling a sexual impulse.
You wanna know why I fly off into a rant when I see little girls treading down that slippery slope of objectification? You can say, “Oh just let it go,” or “It’s not that bad,” but where do you think this stuff starts? Sure, Hyori and Chae Yeon and Britney and whomever all peddle their sex appeal willingly, but they’re adults. When you stop feeling creeped out by a toddler gyrating suggestively in imitation of grownup sexy dancing, does that mean she’s fair game for objectification too? Is it that much better when the girl doing those moves — still underage, still trading on an “innocent” image — is fifteen years old, instead of five?
One thing this drama has done, on multiple occasions, is highlight the hypocrisy of the system whereby women who were victims of sexual crimes were then further abused — by the very ones who are supposed to protect them — for “allowing” themselves to be violated. There was the mother in the first episode who was raped by her father-in-law, then hung for being a pregnant slut. There were the women like So Yoon who returned home after “serving their national duty” as concubines and then condemned to slavery for it. Punished by the people who perpetrated the crime, for the crime that was done TO them. And in yesterday’s episode, the woman raped by the impostor assassins was thrown out of her home by her husband, then sunk into despair and killed herself.
I might not get worked up over these storylines if I could console myself that they are a thing of the past, mere history. But they’re not, and that’s what’s so fucking depressing. Like the little girls who are sold off into abusive marriages at ages of six, or eight. Or the women in the Muslim world who are raped, and then killed BY HER OWN FAMILY in so-called “honor killings.” God, it’s horrific on an epic scale that there even EXISTS a term such as honor killing.
Phew. Like I said, these abuse-of-women storylines get my blood boiling — I hope in a good way — and I appreciate how it provokes thought, although I’m starting to worry that by the end of Chil Woo I may have become an embittered and cynical man-hater. Geez, just keep it in your pants, fellas! I mean, unless it’s consensual and appropriate and all that groovy stuff.