Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 6
Episode 6 was the first episode where I thought that rather than being entirely so-bad-it’s-good, there were parts that were pretty decent on their own merits. Not the entire episode, of course — Chil Woo wouldn’t be fun if it were played completely straight — but just enough to make this episode resonate (with me) more than merely for its jokiness.
Plus, the inclusion of Kim Byul has really kicked up the energy level. She has the added benefit of also mitigating some of Lee Eon’s more bumbling moments (he’s really terrible in this drama, though I have to confess I still like him). Love her.
SONG OF THE DAY
Strongest Chil Woo OST- “웨스턴 휘파람” (Western Whistle). This is probably my favorite instrumental track, and happens to capture the sense of braggadocio that Strongest Chil Woo is powered on. You can hear the overly dramatic swells (which actually wouldn’t be that melodramatic if the drama weren’t silly by contrast) and the Americana influences. (Doesn’t it also remind you vaguely of Firefly? — hey, they did a Western in space, Chil Woo does a Western in Joseon Korea.) [ Download ]
EPISODE 6 RECAP
Min openly admits that he’s lived his life buried in academia and now sees that life is different from book-learnin’. He steps up and takes the reins of their cadre of killers, their squad d’assassinating, or Assassin-A-Team, if you will. (I’m burning through my kitsch-TV references, aren’t I?) The group now includes Chil Woo’s father (full name Choi Nam Deuk), Yeon Doo, and So Yoon’s kid brother Chul Seok.
Min vows his newfound commitment to righting injustices, taking on crimes that wouldn’t be solved by the government. Chil Woo takes a backseat in this operation, content to let someone else lead, but now challenges Min. Let’s not fool ourselves and talk big, he tells them. They’re assassins, plain and simple: “An assassin’s work isn’t accomplished through fancy speeches.” He suggests they take on issues on a case-by-case basis — the three amigos will handle the action, while the boy, the old man and the girl will be their information source.
After reiterating that their task is more dangerous than glamorous, Chil Woo asks who’s willing to continue. Everyone throws their hats into the ring — Min hesitates the longest, but finally joins the others. They join hands, and cheer.
The camera zooms around, shooting every possible angle of this moment, and with the combination of the energetic music, this happy scene runs uncomfortably (but hilariously) long; it’s like in Austin Powers when the villains all laugh maniacally… and laugh… and start to peter out… and keep laughing awkwardly.
We revisit the scene where Orroz passes by So Yoon in the marketplace, instantly sucking away her good cheer like a Joseon-era Dementor. Tense and alert, So Yoon runs after Orroz but loses him in the crowd. At home, she reassures herself with her secret weapon: a hidden musket. Sure, why not?
Chil Woo grins like a fool because he got to hold So Yoon’s hand, while his father snorts in disgust, telling him, “Dude, you’re thirty” (the “Dude” may have been implied) — other guys would’ve had a dozen kids by now, but Chil Woo is giggling over mere hand-holding.
They’re distracted by the sight of three bedraggled little girls who are about to strike the drum of grievances. They’ve traveled miles to make their complaint, but Chil Woo stops them, telling them truthfully that hitting the drum won’t solve their injustices.
Dad takes the girls to a confessional-style room, telling the girls to explain their problem to the listener, who will handle their complaint. Yeon Doo is brought in to talk to the girls, who tell her that their father was wrongly killed. But, oddly enough, the villain that trampled three village men isn’t a person, it’s a beast.
An elephant, to be exact.
Being a rare animal not indigenous to Korea, most of them believe the elephant to be a myth, but Min describes its traits to his (A-)Team.
Once again, Min and Chil Woo come up on opposite sides of the issue: Chil Woo wants to look into the girls’ claim against the elephant, while Min doesn’t. Chil Woo counters that the weird stories children tell often contain things worth paying attention to (having learned his lesson from the boy he’d dismissed at the wishing pond in a previous episode). The story may seem outlandish, but there are some red flags — like why an important diplomatic gift would be left loose to kill men. He raises the class issue again, asking if Min would be so dismissive if the man who was killed was a nobleman.
Min thinks it’s a ridiculous request and scoffs at the idea of taking it seriously. Wanting no part of this, he tells Chil Woo he’ll have to handle the case without him.
The rest of the team throw their support behind Chil Woo, denying (weakly) the suggestion that they’re just going along because they want to see the fascinating elephant. This will be a recurring joke throughout the episode.
The deal with the elephant: It was given as a diplomatic gift, but it grew too expensive to take care of — it couldn’t be killed or neglected because of diplomatic relations. But it was becoming such a burden that the government sent it from the capital to another village. The magistrate pays for the upkeep of the animal by taxing the citizens with the huge amounts of rice needed to feed the elephant.
Currently, the tax is so burdensome that the poor villagers are struggling to meet it. The unsympathetic magistrate has his men ransack homes for the rice tax without a care for the people’s burden. It gets so bad that some men grumble about killing the beast themselves (which is what the girls’ father died attempting).
To carry out Operation Elephant Payback, Chil Woo gets some intel by drilling a hole into the wall (avoiding inappropriate joke here) to overhear his bosses discussing the elephant conundrum amongst themselves. He then offers up himself and Dad when his boss asks for volunteers to deal with the unruly villagers.
The job is described as arduous and dangerous, causing their unit leader to wonder why his biggest slacker is suddenly eager to volunteer. Chil Woo makes the excuse that he’s reflected on his lax work ethic and is now going to make up for it by working diligently. Of course, he knows that the task is actually easy and laid-back — a detail that is only divulged after the assignment is handed out.
(Keeping the joke alive, Dad asks suspiciously why Chil Woo volunteered — it’s because he wants to see the elephant, right?)
So Yoon frets over Orroz’s unexpected appearance and wonders if he’s come for her. That may be true — he takes time out to watch her working — but his primary mission is to retrieve the historical document (regarding Prince So Hyun’s murder) for a nobleman whose face remains hidden.
Orroz’s second-in-command (shades of Hong Gil Dong’s Chang Whe and Chisu?) asks about So Yoon; Orroz denies knowing her, but we’re spun into a flashback to eight years ago:
Orroz had hired three ninjas — what next, knights? Musketeers? Injuns? — to wipe out an entire town/household of people, including children (something about killing Prince So Hyun’s young son). After the ninjas decimated the town, Orroz killed them and saw So Yoon cowering in fear. Shaking nervously, she’d leveled her trusty musket against Orroz, who told her: “Put away the gun and run away. If you do, I won’t follow and kill you.”
But his current intent for So Yoon is unclear — is he going to harm her? Or maybe he’s in love with her?
Elsewhere, Chil Woo and the A-Team make their way down to the elephant village (minus Min). There, they witness the harsh life of the villagers; for instance, the wives of the men who died trying to kill the elephant. To add insult to injury (or, more accurately, injury to injury), the wives are beaten for their husbands’ wrongs, and forced to pay the rice tax for their dead spouses. We learn that the elephant requires 240 kg of rice per day to feed.
Chil Woo spies a group of men behaving oddly, and follows his hunch. The team trails the villagers into the forest until they come upon a clearing where the elder prays for his people’s salvation — and then they BURN AN ELEPHANT IN EFFIGY.
Chil Woo works his way into the midst of the gathering, asserting himself as a government officer, but rather than resistance, the village men all bow in respect and fear. Their elephanticide is not in malice, but rather to save themselves.
The leader takes Chil Woo & Co. back to the village to explain their plight. They watch as the widow (and the three girls’ mother) begs for mercy, cruelly ignored by the men who take her food by force. The people have been so beaten down by the oppressive tax that many have lost the will to live, while others despair at their endless cycle of suffering.
Witnessing the pitiful scene solidifies everyone’s determination to rectify the injustice and take action. Just then, the youngest girl comes running to them, in tears — her mother has died in exhaustion and the older girls have gone off to avenge their father’s death.
It’s really adorable to see the little girls face their elephant enemy with righteous anger, determined to kill it even as they’re unsure about how one goes about killing elephants in the first place.
And then, they’re struck with a realization. Hey, the elephant is eating grass! What about all the rice it was supposed to be consuming? Suspicious, the girls spy some rice on the ground and follow it, Hansel & Gretel style, into the forest, where they come upon their town magistrate in a business transaction.
An illegal business transaction, because he is selling the very same rice that he’d confiscated from his people as part of the “elephant tax.” The clever little things figure out the duplicity and head back to inform their avengers, but are spied and caught by the baddies.
But fear not! Just as the girls are about to be beaten with an oversized mallet, a dart comes shooting through the air, stopping the downward swing. It’s Min, to the rescue!
All episode long, Min has brooded alone, fighting his conflicting feelings about the absurdity of an elephant revenge scheme and niggling misgivings about the situation. Finally, he’d decided his teammates would get into trouble without him and showed up in the nick of time. (He may say he’s there to help them out of a scrape, but I think Min just felt left out.)
Min is soon joined by his dos amigos, and together they take out the henchmen easily. But there’s still one last hurdle: the man holding the girls, threatening to strike.
The three guys back away, as if to calm the guy down and prevent him from hurting the girls. But our team, they’s gots the telepathy flowing, and after a brief exchange of meaningful looks and nods, they work together: Jaja slips his foot under a sharp branch, then kicks the branch into the air. Chil Woo gauges the distance, does a back handspring, and rolls out of the flip to KICK THE BRANCH INTO THE GUY’S CHEST.
Did you get that? He kicks the branch while flipping through the air, and manages to lodge the sharp, pointy end in the guy’s chest.
(By the way, battle banter consists of Chil Woo asking why Min left his trademark white veil at home, to which Min answers that he feels no need to hide his face in light of such clear villainy — he has no guilty conscience today! Jaja tells Chil Woo he ought to ditch his black mask, but Chil Woo retorts that he’s gotta look cool. If only “cool” were the right word…)
“비상” (bi-sang/emergency) [ Download ] ::
You know what this means. MAGICAL HOUR!
The costumed avengers sneak back to the elephant’s corral, where the evil magistrate is directing men to pack up the rice.
Another fight ensues, and today’s lack of a transformation sequence is made up for this lovely addition to Chil Woo’s wardrobe:
See how they spark? The magistrate flees, but he’s stopped by a dart-shooting Yeon Doo. Yay! She’s like the little pink Power Ranger. I’m glad to see her joining the fray, although ultimately she’s not so successful with the hit job. THAT is up to the elephant.
The magistrate advances on Yeon Doo, who’s backed up against the elephant, when all of a sudden the animal wraps its trunk around her and deposits her on its head. And then slaps the magistrate with its trunk and knocks it down. And then STEPS on the magistrate with a crrr-unch!, all while grunting like an enraged Wookiee. For reals.
With the bad guys dead and order restored, Chil Woo and Co. step back to watch a mob of angry villagers storm in, ready to kill the elephant. Only, what they find isn’t the elephant but piles of rice and money. And a note from the A-Team that informs them that these gifts are for the villagers, and that if they should need help again, their mysterious helpers will be nearby to respond.
The villagers cheer, and our heroes smile in satisfaction. Chil Woo takes note of Min’s reaction and comments on his last-minute return: “Be honest, you came because you wanted to see the elephant, didn’t you?” Min blusters his denial, and the other two laugh, saying, “You’re so cute.”
In goofy exaggeration, the six-some make their way back home, looking cool and collected with their slow-motion stroll and flattering close-ups, until Chil Woo ruins their Reservoir Dogs walk by exclaiming, “Can’t you walk any faster?!”
Eager to return home, Chil Woo takes off first, leaving the others behind to smirk at his reason for wanting to get back quickly. Yeon Doo picks up on the implication that a girl is involved and asks for details, and pouts when they aren’t offered.
Having run all the way back to So Yoon’s house, Chil Woo arrives gasping and out of breath, but excited to see her. Except, another visitor has arrived just ahead of him: Orroz.
So Yoon notices his shadow outside her room and reaches for her gun, nervously readying to protect herself as the shadow draws nearer…
When I first realized that the elephant was not only going to be the subject of the day but also the main culprit, I had a laugh because that was even more ludicrous than I’ve come to expect of Chil Woo. And yes, it’s a bit silly that the assassins entertained the girls’ story before stumbling upon the truth — but despite the obviousness of the plot twist (since all us modern-ites know elephants don’t eat rice, and certainly not 240 kg a day), it was a clever way to illustrate the corruption in a different sort of way. I don’t know, there’s just something about taking advantage of people’s innocence to embezzle their goods, buying into their ignorance of exotic animals. And who are they to protest? Even if they don’t believe the story, they have no way to prove it, or rebel. I guess this theme is a common one in sageuks and not exclusive to Chil Woo, but for some reason I liked how it was done here — maybe it’s because I wasn’t expecting anything in this drama to make an impression and it caught me off guard. Plus, those little girls! Boy can they weep.
I’m not really feeling So Yoon’s character so much, even though Gu Hye Sun is probably the only actor taking her role seriously right now, but I AM curious to see how her story plays out, and what role she has in the whole Prince–Assassin–Orroz storyline.