Ah, another final episode, another drama wrapped.
Let’s be honest: Strongest Chil Woo isn’t a great show. It’s probably not even a good one. But it has been often entertaining and despite its recent darker turns, I was holding out hope that the finale would see a return to lighter, goofier times. In that, I’m pretty satisfied. The resolution we’re given is hopeful without being too cartoony, and as far as last episodes go, it did the job.
But let’s get on with the show…
SONG OF THE DAY
Strongest Chil Woo OST – “내가 달려갈께” (I’ll run) by Lazybone [ Download ]
EPISODE 20 RECAP (FINAL)
Heuk San finds himself at Prime Minister Kim’s mercy, outmaneuvered when his father is held captive. Kim gives Heuk San the ultimatum and tells him to decide quickly. His father shouts at him to kill the prime minister and don’t think about him, but Heuk San cannot comply. With a roar of anger, Heuk San thrusts his sword into the ground, giving in.
Kim spares his father’s life but retains custody in order to use that as insurance to keep Heuk San in line. Kim orders Heuk San to bring him the heads of the three assassins. He has five days to accomplish this or the dad is dead.
The assassins think over So Yoon’s request to kill the king, then meet later that evening, each renewing his vow to continue in the fight. Jaja says resolutely, “Let’s go. Let’s die tonight.” Chil Woo corrects him, saying there’s no need to anticipate death: “Assassins are always prepared to die, but don’t go intending to die.”
As they’re about to set out, they receive an unexpected visitor: Heuk San.
A man on a mission, Heuk San grimly informs them that he needs to kill all of them, then launches into attack.
He has the advantage of being the sole assassin armed, but after Jaja and Min are knocked aside, Chil Woo grapples with him hand-to-hand. Heuk San reaffirms his mission to kill, prompting Chil Woo to guess, “You weren’t able to save your father?”
They exhaust themselves fighting each other, finally both collapsing on the ground, wearied and unable to continue.
In the palace, the paranoid king worries himself to the brink of a nervous breakdown, thinking himself on the verge of murder at every instant. Remembering Heuk San’s renown as an unparalleled warrior, he insists that Heuk San be his very own bodyguard, despite the prime minister’s obvious discomfort with that plan (he wants Heuk San to continue tracking down the assassins).
That night, despite placing the palace under heavy guard, the skittish king seizes on the idea that he’s a sitting duck in his chambers, and insists on being moved to an alternate location. The ministers are unsuccessful in talking him out of the move; the king overrides them. Unfortunately, the ministers are right in thinking he’s safest staying put — soon after he steps outside, an arrow strikes the ground beside the king. Heuk San immediately swings into defensive mode while the king is taken away.
Despite the failed attempt, the A-Team is not yet ready for full-scale attack. Back at their hideaway, they plan to swing into action the following night.
Meanwhile, the incident throws the king into a further panic. Convinced that this indicates a security breach, he wants to be moved outside the palace. The next night, Heuk San tries to dissuade the king from his plan, but the king presses. Thus Heuk San accompanies the king, with a troop of soldiers, and they head out to another location.
For old time’s sake: “비상” (bi-sang/emergency) [ Download ]
The assassins get ready. Alas, no new footage of Eric doing somersaults toward his closet or clapping on aluminum arm guards.
The trio intercept the king’s entourage, led by Heuk San. A moment passes between Chil Woo and Heuk San, and they exchange small nods. And then, out steps Heuk San’s father from behind the assassins. He’s been rescued.
Heuk San turns to the king, informing him that he cannot obey his order to kill the assassins. The king sputters, “What? Why not?” Chil Woo replies, with a growing smirk, “Because we’re in this together.”
(HA! Thank lordy. I haven’t laughed out loud since, well, weeks ago, and this confident statement directly echoes what he said in that Episode 4 highlight when the assassins kidnapped the corrupt dude, then had their Cirque de Soleil on Horseback moment.)
Heuk San draws his sword on the king, while Heuk San’s men turn their swords on the outnumbered palace guards.
The cowardly king bolts, but is unable to evade his captors for long. The three assassins corner him — at which point So Yoon steps up wielding the musket given to her by the assassinated princess: “It was right here, in this spot, that the crown prince was poisoned, collapsed and died.”
She continues, describing how the prince’s face turned black, and “he said not one word in hate against you, expressing only concern for Joseon and his family.”
So Yoon raises the musket and demands that he recognize his crimes. The king begs for mercy, but So Yoon doesn’t much care. She tells the king, “As a father, as a grandfather — no, as a human, apologize.”
Just then, the king hears the voice of his dead son and starts blubbering that it wasn’t his fault, that he never ordered his son’s death. (Not that this absolves his guilt, but it’s clear that he’s at least partially correct that it wasn’t ALL his idea; he was a puppet for a greater mastermind, aka Prime Minister Kim.)
Chil Woo and So Yoon regard the weak, sputtering king with something like pity, and Chil Woo lowers the gun.
The king is left to stumble his way back to the palace alone, and falls ill. Whether it’s because he was left wandering the forest at night or because it’s a consequence of guilt is unknown, although both are probably factors. He falls into a fevered illness, only managing to stutter a few syllables before dying.
Heuk San reunites with his father, while Chil Woo fills in his team on how he and Heuk San came to their arrangement. Not even Min or Jaja were aware of the scheme they’d hatched up between them.
As Chil Woo explains, we launch into flashback.
After beating each other up, both Heuk San and Chil Woo had been sprawled out in pain, exhausted. Heuk San had told Chil Woo of the prime minister’s threat to kill his father at the first sign that Heuk San was looking for him, effectively binding himself to the prime minister’s manipulations. Chil Woo had come up with the solution to find Heuk San’s father instead, under the condition that Heuk San deliver the king to him.
To locate the blind man, Chil Woo had inspected the message written by Heuk San’s father (Heuk San had demanded a writing sample to prove the man was being held alive). Chil Woo was able to read a hidden Braille-like message in the paper, a word that So Yoon recognized as a globe that the crown prince had brought with him to Korea from China. They’d deduced that the message referred to the room where the globe was stored (as he’s blind, it makes sense that he’d give a clue involving an item he could feel). That led them to one of the palace’s inner storerooms, and they broke the man out.
End flashback. Heuk San and his father decide to leave together, and say their goodbyes. While the blind man expresses his silent thanks to Chil Woo, So Yoon catches Heuk San’s eye — and I think she must be aware that he lurrrves her — and smiles at him, telling him, “It’ll be difficult, but please forget everything. I’ll never forget how you’ve saved me all those times.”
Heuk San takes out the bandanna Chil Woo had returned to him, and once again they exchange the cloths in a sign of brotherhood. Heuk San then escorts his father out.
Heuk San has relinquished the historical document, so Kim is advised to let Heuk San go, because he is no longer any danger to them. But Kim is stubbornly unwilling to drop the issue — control freak much? — and posts a notice ordering the assassins to turn themselves in. If not, all the arrested rebels will be executed.
This notice draws out some of the various people who’d been helped by the assassins over the course of the drama: the woman poet whose traitorous lover sold her out; the boy whose mother was killed by her rapist father-in-law; the village of amputees; the one-eyed man whose mother Chil Woo freed from false arrest.
While the A-Team frets about their hopeless-looking situation, these former “clients” band together for the purpose of saving their saviors. Unaware of this show of loyalty, the three assassins ready themselves for action, giving each other their last regards.
Next day, i.e. execution day.
Interspersed in the crowd are the villagers, who have worked out a plan to help the assassins, which include Chil Woo’s mother, grandmother, and Yeon Doo. However, an unexpected wrench is thrown into plans when they see that the guards have beefed-up security to prevent any rescue attempts. Soldiers watch from high above, armed with muskets and bows and arrows, ready to strike at any sign of insurgence.
The executioners ready to kill the rebels, when at the last moment the assassins — and So Yoon — present themselves. Chil Woo demands that the rebels be freed, and the foursome are surrounded.
Presiding over the execution is Prime Minister Kim. It looks like our assassins are about to be captured, when suddenly the soldiers nearest them are struck down with flying daggers.
And in rides Heuk San!
Heuk San swoops in while the three assassins look on in dumb shock — you could help a little, guys — and knocks out a bunch of soldiers. The ensuing chaos gives the villagers their chance to swing into action; they grab their hidden weapons and start fighting.
Chil Woo, Min, and Jaja had no idea of the people’s plan, and take in the moment with surprise. The one-eyed man comes up to them and informs them, “All these people came to save you.”
They launch into the fray, joining their villager allies. Even Chil Woo’s mom and grandma hold their own (granny isn’t above biting, I’m happy to see).
The king’s snipers find all the bowstrings have been sabotaged and the muskets jammed, thanks to tampering by Chil Woo’s dad and the other officers. Unexpectedly facing defeat, the soldiers are run off. The people rejoice.
Prime Minister Kim sees the tide turn against him and takes the coward’s escape by fleeing. The assassins catch up to him shortly thereafter, advancing on him and one by one revealing their faces.
First Min takes off his hat, and Kim snarls to recognize the court historian: “I should have killed you with the others.” Next Chil Woo removes his mask and asks leadingly, “Get a good look. Don’t I resemble someone you know?” Kim catches his meaning and wonders, “Could you be… Kang San-ha’s son?”
Chil Woo answers in the affirmative. Kim sneers, “Do you intend to change the world, like your father?” After all, he knows that Chil Woo’s actions, like those of his father, are futile: “The world doesn’t change. Not even if you kill me, not even if you change the king. Not even in hundred or five hundred years. Someone will always trample over someone else, while others will be trampled on. The world never changes.”
His words incense Min, but Chil Woo surprises his comrades by agreeing. He says that Kim is right — the world doesn’t change. “However, even in a hundred years, or five hundred years, there will be someone like me. He may hold something other than a sword, but there will be more fighters like me. That’s good enough.”
Seeing something beyond them, Kim says with a boost of confidence, “And even in a hundred or five hundred years, you can be defeated.” His meaning becomes clear when the assassins turn to see that they’re being surrounded by soldiers.
With the odds stacked against them, Chil Woo clenches his fist. Jaja and Min likewise grit their teeth, but far from being cowed, the three friends give each other small nods.
Chil Woo answers, “Yeah, like you said, we may be defeated, or not. But what’s definite is that you die here, today.”
They shout their battle cries, and ready to fight.
But wait! Before you get too upset at an open-ended finale, we have an epilogue:
It looks rather promising, because although it starts out in fuzzy focus (which always makes me think it’s only a fantasy or dream sequence), it gradually sharpens.
Yeon Doo learns to fight under Jaja’s tutelage (perhaps suggesting that they develop a relationship), while Min’s One True Love isn’t so much a person as it is Accuracy in History — he breathes a sigh of satisfaction to restore the missing pages to the historical record.
Elsewhere, Heuk San attends to his father as devoted and loving son — and smiling, I think, for the first time in this entire series.
So Yoon has adopted an active part in the assassinating business by taking a turn in the Assassin Confessional Booth. And as for Chil Woo? He’s the same as ever, falling asleep on the job.
All right. First things first: The finale episode itself. Pretty good, in my opinion. As you may have noticed, either in watching the series or in my repeated comments, Chil Woo hasn’t been quite up to snuff in recent episodes. It started off genuinely awful in its first episode but quickly found its place as a goofball treat, but the rollicking good times unfortunately weren’t sustained through much of the mid-to-latter part of the series.
When the story started to focus on the royal plot, we lost the standalone episode plots and thus the short-term “cases” that our assassins would take on. That meant that although the story became more cohesive and suspenseful, we lost a lot of the silly shenanigans that had made Chil Woo such campy fun. Without them, it was just another fusion sageuk, but with them at least Chil Woo offered something new and fresh. Ridiculous costumes?, check. (Zorro leatherwear and glaringly white veils.) Absurd weapons, check. (Fiery bullwhips, metal plates as arm- and shin-guards.) Silly chase scenes, check. (Horse-drawn “skateboarding,” equestrian acrobatics.) Really bad dialogue and acting, oh BIG check.
So when we lost a lot of that, stuff got kind of boring in the middle, and I was thinking of writing off Chil Woo as a bad decision best forgotten. But the last two episodes were better than I expected, and actually wrapped things up in a satisfactory way. I really loved the (faux) ending that cut us off just before Chil Woo engages in the battle of his life — it recalled the finale of Angel, which in my opinion may be the single best finale on television, like, ever.
But they did equip us with that epilogue to give us a sense of hope for the future, and while it did show us that our favorite characters are alive and well, I appreciate that it didn’t give us a perfect happy-ever-after. Just enough of a hint to allow us to leave the series on an uplifting note.
All that said, Strongest Chil Woo isn’t a great series. It was mindless fun for a while, got a bit draggy toward the end, but managed to pull it together for a decent send-off. In my book, that’s average at best. I don’t think I’d recommend the drama to someone who hasn’t started — although I would probably insist they catch some of the more outlandish episodes, say 2 through 6, because that would be a shame to miss out on surefire laughs. And if someone’s started the series, by all means finish it, since the ending draws enough satisfactory conclusions to round out the series. But Chil Woo is best watched with a healthy sense of humor and lots of appreciation for the ridiculous.
And finally, we can’t leave out mention of Yoo Ah-in (Orroz/Heuk San), who totally stole the show. Seriously, where did this kid suddenly come from? It seems like he popped up overnight — he has a few credits but his profile has remained low: he started in the high school sitcom Sharp, which ran from 2003 through 2005 and featured a young(er) Go Ara. He acted in two 2007 films, Shim’s Family and Boys of Tomorrow. And if this drama role gave him a little bit of mainstream exposure, his next will surely launch him to the next level. He’s set to take on a role in the upcoming drama Antique featuring other eye-candy pretty boys Joo Ji-hoon (Goong), Choi Ji-ho (Time of Dog and Wolf) and Kim Jae-wook (Coffee Prince).
Here are Yoo Ah-in’s essential stats:
Born October 6, 1986.
Schooling at Danguk University, Theater major.
Management company: Star K Entertainment
Official site: http://cafe.star-k.co.kr/YAI/
Cyworld personal site: http://www.cyworld.com/instruct
In Chil Woo, Yoo Ah-in did what almost nobody else did, which was understanding that this was a fluff drama that wasn’t going to earn a lot of critical acclaim, but not falling back on that as an excuse to phone in his performance. On the contrary, he acted the hell out of his role, and as a result I think he came away with a lion’s share of what little critical commentary that may arise about this drama. No wasted opportunity for him, yeah? I came into this show not knowing who he was, but I’ll be expecting bigger things from him in the future.
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 19
- Strongest Chil Woo: Episode 18
- 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