Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 18
There’s something about this image I really like. The set may look artificial and the background may be too fakely blue, but it’s a nice, homey family scene that carries added meaning as a happy moment of calm before the storm.
As for the drama’s audience, the pre-empting of Gourmet‘s Episode 18 today probably accounts for the jump in Chil Woo‘s ratings. The numbers have held steady in the 10%-11% range (AGB numbers; TNS is typically about 1% lower) for much of its run, and jumped suddenly today to 14.5%.
Things wrap up for Chil Woo next week, so we start to feel the story setting itself up for its grand finale.
SONG OF THE DAY
Star Love Fish – “지워진 날들” (erased days) [ Download ]
EPISODE 18 RECAP
When the secret rebel meeting is interrupted by Prime Minister Kim’s soldiers, everyone scrambles to flee. Most make it free, including So Yoon and Chul Seok, while Heuk San’s father holds off the attackers single-handedly (taking advantage of the geography, which has the soldiers bottlenecked at the bridge). Nobleman Jo Pil Sun joins him, and therefore those two are eventually captured while the others escape.
Jo is tortured first for information. Prime Minister Kim demands to know about the document and the surviving prince — but Jo just sneers, “Does that mean you admit everything’s true — the truth in the document and the existence of the prince?”
Kim tells him to be realistic because the truth alters nothing — he’s chasing a futile cause with everything to lose and nothing to gain. If Jo cooperates, Kim will spare his family; if not, they will die. Jo remains firm despite the torture.
Prime Minister Kim recognizes Heuk San’s father (Jin Mu Yang, but I think it’s probably easier just to call him Heuk San’s father) as the man he thought he’d killed years ago. Knowing that Heuk San has shown particular interest in his father, Kim determines to keep this a secret from him.
Chil Woo and Jaja surveil the shrine where the king will be observing ancestral rites in a week’s time. They plan their infiltration of the shrine until they’re interrupted by Min and an injured Nobleman Choi stumbling back to headquarters, who inform them of their unexpected attack.
Chil Woo’s reaction is to head out to confront Heuk San; So Yoon worries for his safety. Chil Woo tells her that while they may have to kill each other eventually, first they must talk.
Heuk San arrives home and hears of the night’s events. He’s puzzled because something feels wrong — if rebels were captured, the police (of whom he is chief) should have handled the matter, but he wasn’t informed.
Chil Woo makes his presence known and confronts Heuk San, showing him the bandanna he found, which he identifies as the one he’d given Heuk San as a boy. He brings out the one Heuk San had given him, then removes his mask in a big flourish like it’s a huge reveal — as though we couldn’t tell exactly who he was anyway.
Heuk San doesn’t display any surprise, having deduced Chil Woo’s identity already. But he does remark on their constant entanglements: “What a disgustingly tangled fate.”
Heuk San scoffs at Chil Woo’s belief that the blind man had turned traitor to save his family — his mother and grandmother died even before he and his father came to Muryundang. He laughs at Chil Woo for having been hoodwinked by his father, to which Chil Woo replies, “I may have been fooled, but it wasn’t by your father. He didn’t know they’d died.” Kim had used the misconception to push Heuk San’s father to do his bidding. Now, THIS does surprise Heuk San.
Meanwhile, Heuk San’s two fathers are having a similar conversation, rehashing the past. Tied down and injured, Heuk San’s father growls in fury while Kim cackles evilly.
Prime Minister Kim: “Heuk San knows you’re alive, but can’t kill you. Do you know what that means? It means you’re still a father to him.” But he doesn’t say this to console the man, rather to poke at an open wound and to flaunt how the son is more his than the blind man’s — after all, Kim was the one who raised the boy to be his tool.
Heuk San starts to struggle with this newfound information, and asks how Chil Woo can let the blind man live when he killed his father. .
Chil Woo: “I thought to kill him, but then I thought: He may be my father’s enemy, but he’s also the father of the one who saved me and Woo Young. You saved us when we were young, and you also saved So Yoon, who’s everything to me. Now, save your father.”
Heuk San: “What do you mean?”
Chil Woo: “He’s being held captive by Kim Ja Sun. Go save him now. I’ve saved him once, and won’t do so again. If you don’t save him, nobody will.”
Chil Woo returns the bandanna, saying they will now revert to the days before they knew each other. However, he proposes that they trade bandannas again if Heuk San decides to save his father and Jo from Kim’s clutches (as if to say, if you do the right thing, I want to reclaim our kinship). If not?, Heuk San asks. Chil Woo answers: “We’re not blood brothers. All that’s left is for us to kill each other.”
Chil Woo’s words make an impression. Heuk San rushes to confront his adopted father.
Kim doesn’t seem terribly surprised to see Heuk San there, admitting to all that Chil Woo has just confirmed (that he killed Heuk San’s mother and grandmother and used his father). Heuk San tries to strike a bargain, saying that he’ll back off if Kim hands his father over.
Kim takes a different tack, however, telling him: “Kill me. I can die by your hand. But if that happens, then you must also kill your father. Then you can be free.” He tells him to choose: kill both fathers and live free, or spare both fathers and choose between them.
Heuk San swings his sword downward in anger, but can’t strike, which means he’s admitted defeat to Kim. The prime minister accepts this as renewal of his allegiance, but won’t accept any more insurgence from his son. From now on, Heuk San must follow his orders or face consequences.
Meanwhile, Chil Woo waits at the meeting place to see if Heuk San will show up for their bandanna-exchange. He doesn’t.
Now that he’s been reined back under his adoptive father’s control, Heuk San must answer for why he let Chul Seok live. Kim is back to being confident, telling Heuk San to retrieve the document and the prince and all will be well. (Well, not for the document or the prince.)
He tells him, “I truly think of you as my son. Don’t go trying to live as that other man’s son.” If Heuk San stays on his side, he will be rewarded with power and support. But is this a display of paternal love? Not exactly: “It’s because I truly need you.” And we all know we should treat our toys well if we want to make the most usage out of them.
More torturing for Jo. The king finds out about these clandestine torture sessions belatedly and walks in, displeased that his ministers have kept him uninformed. (The defend themselves, saying they didn’t want to trouble him until they had results.)
But Jo has remained strong in his continued silence, and says defiantly, “Kill me. If I live, you gain nothing. If I die, my compatriots lose nothing.” He addresses the king’s crimes directly to his face, saying the king is sure to die for his sins. Even as he is further tortured, Jo grits out that the country will come to know of its king’s misdeeds and all will be revealed.
The king is enraged, but Jo doesn’t break. Well, not metaphorically. Physically, I’m sure he’s nursing breaks all over. Jo says, “The prince [Chul Seok] will set up a new world and make a new Joseon.” And then dies.
This grandson business, however, is news to the king. He was completely unaware, and hearing that Chul Seok is alive throws him into fresh anxiety.
The A-Team and their rebel army has one week to plan their coup, which will take place when the king heads out to his mountain shrine for the memorial rites. (The king grows steadily more paranoid now that he knows the full story, which perhaps explains why his advisors hadn’t told it to him. Particularly since their worst-case-scenario involves death for the king.)
Chil Woo & Co. discuss their options for the coup. They have three potential plans of attack: (1) They use conspiracy to dethrone the king. (2) Poison him and keep the truth secret, as the current king did to the prince. (3) Kill the king and reveal the truth, ushering in the dawn of a new world.
They opt for (3) and set out to assassinate the king. They have a list of his co-conspirators, who must also be killed
Both sides prepare for upcoming conflict, with Chil Woo’s rebels planning routes of attack and keeping watch on the king to follow his movements. Heuk San, on the other hand, is on heightened alert for rebel action. To keep a handle on the situation, the king orders the government officers to remain put and stay in the capital, so as to keep track of everybody.
The night before the big day, Chil Woo’s father tries to convince Chil Woo to walk away and return to normal civilian life. He understands what the rebels are fighting for, but is all too aware of the dangers involved. Chil Woo assures him he’ll be fine, so Dad relents. With tears in his eyes, he repeats the cautionary words they’d adhered to for years: “Don’t stand in the very front, or the very back, or the very middle.” Instead, his best chances of safety lie on the edges.
That night, the Choi family has a pleasant dinner without mentioning any serious or grave topics, but the lighthearted mood is underscored by the knowledge that this may be Chil Woo’s last happy family meal.
He drops by to check on Chul Seok and So Yoon as well, and shares a moment alone with So Yoon. They’re both trying to keep their moods light, but again, they both are fully aware of the impending danger they’re about to confront, so they look at each other with tears in their eyes. Or should I say, So Yoon looks at Chil Woo with tears in her eyes; Chil Woo just looks mildly sad. Come on, Eric, are you phoning it in today or what?
And then it’s the big day.
The team receives words from an informant that the king is traveling to the shrine today, which sets their assassination plans in motion…
And can I tell you, MAGICAL HOUR, how I have missed thee.
“비상” (bi-sang/emergency) [ Download ] ::
But yes, it’s a real, honest-to-goodness (and much-missed) magical hour. You don’t even know how excited this made me.
Maybe it’s because today’s extra-special, but the sequence seems even more super-slow-mo than usual. Chil Woo launches himself into a front somersault on his way to his hidden closet. He twirls the panel to reveal the black costume while whisking off his shirt (alas, we merely get the back view). And he fastens his forearm guards with extra finality, with prominent sound effects echoing the clicks as they snap shut.
The A-Team heads out on horseback (Chul Seok, So Yoon, and Nobleman Choi follow behind on foot — how chivalrous!). Lots of lingering looks between our main characters punctuate the importance of this moment.
The trio plods along on horseback at a somewhat slow, staid pace, leading Chil Woo to wonder if they’re being too grim and grave. Instead, they say, they ought to just act as they usually do. And so, to the appropriated strains of Bowie’s “Under Pressure” (ah, another welcome sound), they start racing across the fields in gleeful abandon on their fake horses.
Chil Woo wonders: “Woo Young, do you see us? Father, do you see? Please help us just this once, please.”
The king arrives at the shrine, decked out in his ceremonial dress clothes, and begins the rites.
Out in the forest, the rebels prepare for battle, although our main threesome are already in position. Unbeknownst to the king or his inner circle, the assassins are waiting for their moment, crouched under the table upon which the ceremonial food is laid, hidden by the long black tablecloth.
When they decide the time is right, the three assassins signal to each other and make their move, leaping out from under the table. It looks like Chil Woo gets in the first blow, slashing his sword toward the king, with Min striking the second. The king collapses…
With the previous several episodes focused on weaving together the royal intrigue and the rebel conspiracy, we’ve been lacking some of the early humor, which is really what makes Chil Woo what it is. Without that camp factor, I doubt I (or many others) would have felt compelled to continue the series because while the story is not bad, it is not extraordinary either. As a plain fusion sageuk (oxymoron?), Chil Woo rates a cut below Hong Gil Dong, and likely Iljimae as well; its absurdity sets it apart. So it’s with particular excitement that I greeted the return of Chil Woo’s Zorro costume and the dumbly bobbing fake horses with their dull glassy eyes.
And also: Yoo Ah-in is so good at portraying a cold murderer who then breaks down emotionally to reveal the scared, love-deprived child underneath. Layers are a very good thing. If he had been in Hong Gil Dong instead of Jang Geun-seok, I think I would’ve liked that series more.
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 17
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 16
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 15
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 15
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 14
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 13
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 12
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 11
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 10
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 9
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 8
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 7
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 6
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 5
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 4
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 3
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episodes 1 & 2