Hi, Dahee here. Hjkomo asked me to fill in for her for recapping episode ten, as she really does like her beauty sleep and would like to get back to doing it. I happily agreed, so here I am. No worries – she’ll be back for episode twelve (and Samsooki for eleven).
Ten episodes in, Chuno has really hit its stride, and is showing signs of a major shift in focus and direction – especially in the relationships between characters. Episode ten is also easily the best episode that Chuno has had to offer so far. And considering that the previous nine episodes were amazing stuff, that can only mean one thing: GENIUS. We have GENIUS on our hands here, people.
SONG OF THE DAY
Kim Gwang Seok – “잊어야 한다는 마음으로” (With the Intention of Forgetting You)
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The episode begins with Dae-gil running towards Baek-ho, who stands there, knowing he can’t escape. He sets his knife against his neck, and Baek-ho goes onto his knees in silent surrender. Seeing this, Dae-gil laughs rather maniacally (he’s clearly not quite in his right mind at this stage!). Dae-gil begins the ass-whooping, interrogation-style. And he then asks the question that is always at the forefront of his mind: “Where is Un-nyun?”
Baek-ho isn’t going down without a fight, however, and he matter-of-factly tells Dae-gil to just go ahead and kill him. Dae-gil again sets his knife against his neck as though to do as he asks, but he hesitates. Baek-ho tauntingly asks why he’s hesitating, and reminds him that he’s the person who killed Dae-gil’s father. Tears are filling Dae-gil’s eyes now, even as he laughs again. And he gets his revenge at last, slicing into Baek-ho’s face and making a scar identical to the one Baek-ho gave Dae-gil ten years ago. An eye for an eye, quite literally. And it looks SO PAINFUL.
Meanwhile, Un-nyun and Tae-ha are where we left them at the end of episode nine, surrounded with seemingly nowhere to run. Tae-ha assures Un-nyun that everything will be alright, and she nods, her eyes full of trust. Tae-ha kneels down with his hands over his head, as though to surrender, and the soldiers go to tie his hands. But it was all a ruse – Tae-ha takes advantage of the moment to take the rope and begin fighting all of them at once. It is so cool.
But! In the midst of the fight, one of the soldiers aims his bow at Un-nyun, ready to shoot her. Tae-ha notices this, and runs to block it off, making it just in time to stop the arrow from hitting Un-nyun – instead, it pierces straight through his arm. Another major ouch moment.
The remaining soldier who shot the arrow runs away, and Tae-ha promptly pulls the arrow from his arm. Triple ouch! Un-nyun tells him to wait, and runs to gather something from an earthen jar, which apparently has something in it that would be useful medicinally.
Meanwhile, the palace maid is still chasing after Han-seom (aka Constable Kwok) and the prince. She sure is persistent! Han-seom finally stops, and hands the prince over, much to her relief. He then informs her that an assassin is coming after them to kill the prince. She now realizes exactly how dire the situation is, and goes along willingly.
Un-nyun and Tae-ha have also reached the same caves Han-seom and co. as well as Chul-woong, in pursuit of them, have gone through. Tae-ha wants to go on, but Un-nyun insists that they stop to tend to his wound. As she treats him, she asks him about the prince and palace maid. He answers all her questions honestly, letting her in on some real information for the first time – a sign of trust. She asks whether the prince will become king later on, and Tae-ha replies that he must. Un-nyun then flashes back to happier times with Dae-gil, when he gave her a piggyback ride and promised that he would change the country so that equality would exist and the two of them could be together. Lost in these memories, Un-nyun asks: “If we get a new king, will the world change?”
Tae-ha: It must.
Un-nyun: How will it change?
Tae-ha: It can’t get any worse than it is now.
It’s an almost humourous reply, and Un-nyun’s lips curve upwards ever so slightly in response to it. She finishes treating his wound, and Tae-ha suggests they leave. But Un-nyun surprises him with a negative, telling him to go on ahead alone, and that she doesn’t want to interfere in his important work. She tells him: “Be sure to succeed and create a good world.”
(Side note: I really love this about Un-nyun. She dares to dream of better things when, as a woman and a former slave, no one gives her the right to dream. These dreams of hers are so big that she longs for the very world she lives in to change. And if that must be gained through rebellion, then so be it. Isn’t that such a fascinating aspect of her character? Or am I the only one who thinks so?)
Tae-ha’s silent for a moment, digesting this. Then, very romantically, he replies, “Although it goes against our morals, I will continue to hold your hand…Because we must run.”
So saying, he extends his hand to her. It is an offer, and also a question. Wordlessly, Un-nyun puts her hand in his. The two of them look at each other, knowing without voicing it that they have finally openly acknowledged their unwillingness to part. They will now go on together no matter what, against all logic. (Sorry, Choco.)
Dae-gil is just about to begin his interrogations for real when he’s interrupted by a voice. Seol-hwa has been captured by two of Baek-ho’s henchmen, and one of them holds a sword to her neck, threatening to kill her if Dae-gil doesn’t release him.
But Dae-gil doesn’t really seem to care. He chides Seol-hwa for losing the horses, and that she should pay him back for them somehow. Seol-hwa’s terrified by this, and pleads with him not to come any closer even as he approaches her, shouting that they’ll kill her if he comes any nearer.
I’m going to be generous here and surmise that Dae-gil guesses that the henchmen are bluffing. It’s a big gamble he makes – but it’s a fruitful one, because the two henchmen rush at him, leaving Seol-hwa behind. She’s lost her use now that they know Dae-gil won’t be fooled by their tricks. Without preamble, Dae-gil smoothly puts both of them out of action. It’s actually kind of chilling.
Baek-ho asks whether Dae-gil isn’t curious why he did what he did ten years ago. Dae-gil retorts that he doesn’t give a damn, but Baek-ho tells him anyway. We get a flashback to ten years ago.
Back then, Dae-gil had begged his father to allow him to marry Un-nyun, saying that he couldn’t live without her. Furious, his father had ordered that Un-nyun be locked up in the storage room, where she would be left to die from dehydration. As she was dying, Dae-gil could do nothing but cry in his room. Baek-ho was the one who took action. He begged Dae-gil’s father to save her. And here is where a major bomb is dropped: He brought up the fact that he knows that his mother, a slave, was impregnated by him, which means that Baek-ho and Dae-gil are half-brothers. And Baek-ho’s mother later married another slave, and gave birth to Un-nyun. This means that Un-nyun and Baek-ho are half-siblings as well. So in a weird, twisted sense, Un-nyun and Dae-gil are related through Baek-ho…except not really, since they don’t have any actual blood ties. It’s so twisted.
Ahhh. Where would a K-drama be without at least the hints of incest?
Even with Baek-ho begging him to listen to him as a son and to let Un-nyun live, his father was unmoved. Baek-ho thus grew steely with resolve, and later entered his father’s rooms with a scythe and killed him. Of course he set fire to the house as well.
Baek-ho sums up his story with this awful truth: “That day, I didn’t kill your father. I killed mine.”
Dae-gil, who’s been shocked throughout this story, screams at him to shut up. As Dae-gil sets his knife against his throat one more time, trying to work up the nerve to kill him, Baek-ho asks, “Do you still love Un-nyun? Then forget her now. Un-nyun has already gotten married. With former Commissioner Song Tae-ha.”
At these words, a tear drops from Dae-gil’s eye, and he releases Baek-ho in shock. He remembers the moment when he threw his knife and hit the woman riding behind Tae-ha, and seeing the side of her face. Not quite able to register what he’s just said, he asks pathetically, “Did you say Song Tae-ha? She’s married to Song Tae-ha?” He doesn’t even really seem to hear Baek-ho as he says:
“That day, Un-nyun didn’t want to run away. She wanted to die in the house you lived in. I dragged her away by force. Un-nyun has committed no sin except the one of daring to look at you lovingly. I am the one who has committed all the sins. So don’t look for her anymore. That is true love. I will leave now while trusting you (will fulfill my wish).”
He then takes Dae-gil’s sword and stabs himself in the stomach. As he dies, he looks at Dae-gil and in a wonderfully heartbreaking beat, stammers, “My…brother…”
Dae-gil slowly breaks down, at first not really seeming to register what’s happened, wondering why it had to be Song Tae-ha, of all people. Why did she have to marry a runaway slave? The tears flowing down his face, he collapses and grabs the dead Baek-ho by the collar, screaming at him that he must open his eyes, that he wasn’t given permission to die.
Eventually he stops screaming, and simply sits there, dumb. What follows is a scene that hurts just to write about. Seol-hwa, who has been watching this entire exchange, silently kneels next to him, crying with her sympathy. She holds his blood-stained hand in hers in an attempt at comforting him, as miles away, Tae-ha extends his hand to Un-nyun, and the two of them run up the cliffs together in the darkness.
May I just say how amazing this scene is? It is truly an emotional tour de force, and must be seen to be understood – mere words could never convey how beautiful it is. And the best part is Jang Hyuk’s acting. Dae-gil’s world, everything that his life has been built on for the past ten years, has just collapsed around him, and Jang Hyuk portrays all of that incredible despair with amazing heart and power and detail. My heart aches for him so.
Back to Han-seom and co. The three of them pause to rest in a cave, and Han-seom reveals that all this time, he had been playing the part of the bad guy in order to be able to stay close to the prince to save him should a situation just like this one ever arise. Thus we get a flashback to Tae-ha and his comrades in jail, and Tae-ha ordering Han-seom to betray them and live a life of lies until the time came when he would receive his next orders.
The three of them continue on their way, not knowing that Chul-woong is hot on their trail. Han-seom continues to propose to the palace maid, promising her they’ll live a decent life together. The two banter with each other, their conversation light and easy. It’s a lovely moment because it’s the first time she’s really opened up to him, and there’s so much raw hope for the future. Han-seom asks her what her name is, and where she’s from, and she seems reluctant to answer, avoiding the question. He keeps pressing her for the answer, and she stops, saying slowly, “My name is…”
However! Chul-woong has spotted them at last from a distance, and he throws a hastily made makeshift spear at them, piercing her straight through the back. No! As she sits dying, she makes Han-seom promise to take care of the prince, and says: “My name is…Jang…Pil-soon…”
(This explains why she was reluctant to tell him her name. It’s not exactly a pretty one.)
Crying, she and Han-seom touch each other’s faces. She dies, and he screams with agony. But he can’t mourn for long, and he wrenches himself away from her body in order to save the prince’s life. Chul-woong runs after him in pursuit.
Eventually, Chul-woong finally catches up to him, and the two of them exchange ironic greetings as former comrades who know each other well. The dialogue is rather darkly comical.
Thus follows an AWESOME fight scene between the two, with Chul-woong trying to kill the prince, and Han-seom repeatedly blocking him off. (Note: When I first watched this scene, the prince struck me as being a rather useless sack of potatoes without the brains to even try to run away from the scary sword. But upon multiple watches and deeper reflection, I’ve realized that he may very well end up fulfilling the role of the silent observer, and that his steady, unflinching gaze may be a reflection of that.)
The fight moves to an even more gorgeous locale, with wet rocks and the tide so thrillingly close by. Just when it seems that Chul-woong has gained the upper hand and is about to kill Han-seom, the two of them hear a voice shout from above, “Stop!”. It’s Tae-ha to the rescue! He’s alone (Un-nyun gave him silent permission to go on ahead since she was slowing him down) and swordless, and he jumps down and grabs Han-seom’s dropped sword. WOOT WOOT.
Tae-ha: Stop it. Aren’t we friends who shed blood together on the battlefield?
Chul-woong: Friends? Have you ever thought of me as a friend? Didn’t you always look down on me and give me orders?
Tae-ha: If you continue, I will kill you.
Chul-woong: Do you think that just because you saved me once, that makes my life yours?
Tae-ha doesn’t bother to reply, and tells Han-seom to go on ahead with the prince. He obeys.
Meanwhile, Un-nyun is continuing down the path that Tae-ha has come, struggling to hurry. As she goes, she suddenly stops. She’s spotted Tae-ha’s sword, which he has left behind for her on a stone on a clifftop, signifying that he will come back for her. Realizing the implications, Un-nyun sits and cradles the sword like one would hold an instrument, caressing it. (And my terrible brain chooses this unfortunate moment to scream, “PHALLIC SYMBOL!”.)
The fight is ON between Tae-ha and Chul-woong, and it is MIND-BLOWING. I know I need to try and describe it for you guys, but it is indescribable. It must be seen to be understood. It veritably pulses with life. Enjoy it now, because I doubt we’ll see this level of technical proficiency in a Korean drama again until Kwak Jung Hwan’s next drama, at least. WE ARE NOT WORTHY.
The exquisite thing about this scene is the way water is used as a visual device, with the swords slicing through the puddles and the camera capturing each tiny droplet of water in all its miniscule beauty. It’s cinematic poetry, it really is. And then there’s the actual fighting between the men, with intriguingly frequent touching between the two of them (ooh, that sounded wrong) – at one point it’s almost like they’re embracing, and at another, they’re standing back to back, bringing to mind the past when they once fought together as soldiers, protecting each other. It’s like one big metaphor for their relationship. It’s BRILLIANT.
Finally, after much sword clashing, Tae-ha succeeds in slicing Chul-woong’s side with his blade. The fight is over. Chul-woong tries desperately to continue the fight anyway, even as his strength wanes, but Tae-ha easily knocks his sword aside and holds his own to Chul-woong’s neck.
Tae-ha: Stop chasing me now.
Chul-woong: Don’t talk to me as though you’re giving me orders.
Tae-ha: I trust you will.
As Tae-ha runs off, Chul-woong shouts after him, telling him to come back and fight to the death. His desperation here is rather pitiful. (Lee Jong Hyuk is so wonderful in this scene.) He’s stopped from following him, however, by the arrival of soldiers. But even in his weakened state, he manages to single-handedly kill all of them. Anyone wanna bet that Chul-woong is reborn as Superman in another life?
Tae-ha soon joins Han-seom and the prince, and the three of them reach a raft that’s been prepared beforehand for their escape. Tae-ha tells Han-seom that he needs to go back and get someone, and off he goes to retrieve Un-nyun.
Left alone, Han-seom thinks aloud to the prince:
“I learned that a person who can’t save one life, cannot save their nation, Your Highness. I…did nothing but run away…but General…is going off to save yet another person. Is that not the kind of man who can raise an entire nation? Isn’t that right, Your Highness?”
Meanwhile, Dae-gil, drunk out of his mind, is walking slowly along a leaf-strewn path, with Seol-hwa desperately trying to cheer him up beside him. She even sings and dances (the popular folk song “Arirang”), and the lyrics seem to echo her own feelings: “Look at me, look at me.” When Dae-gil doesn’t respond, she calls after his retreating back:
“Just live with me, Orabeoni. It’s better to live with a fun woman than a pretty one.”
It’s an outright confession of her feelings, and Dae-gil stops, making me think for a second that her words have pierced his armour of pain. But no – in front of him, he suddenly sees a vision of Un-nyun, breathtakingly beautiful, with her hair tied up signifying that she’s married, and a deep look of sorrow on her face. It’s as though she’s saying goodbye. And she’s sorry. And she loves him.
As he starts to walk towards her, she starts walking away, her face continually turned towards him. She’s leaving, and yet she can’t stop looking at him.
At the same time, Tae-ha reaches (the real) Un-nyun, who rises to meet him. The two of them walk towards each other.
Tae-ha: You waited for me?
Un-nyun: You left your sword behind.
Ah, ze romance! Overcome by his feelings, Tae-ha pulls her to him in a hug. He then pulls away…to kiss her. Un-nyun looks conflicted for half a second before she closes her eyes and accepts his kiss.
And the view? Is BEAUTIFUL. Now that’s one memorable kiss.
As all of this happens, the vision of Un-nyun that Dae-gil sees finally turns her back on him and walks away.
…And she disappears, like the illusion she is.
Dae-gil is left to stare at an empty path. And his heartbroken expression changes to one that sets my very laptop on fire.
DO YOU SEE THESE GOOSEBUMPS ON MAH ARMS, JANG HYUK?
Phew! A lot of deaths/mourning this episode, huh? Farewells seem to be the theme of this episode. And I’m not just talking about farewells through death. With these goodbyes, Chuno closes one chapter of its story, and readies itself to open the next.
Chuno is a drama about slavery. Not just physical slavery, either, but mental and emotional slavery as well. Dae-gil has been a slave to his love for Un-nyun for ten years, and vice versa. Chul-woong is a slave to his ambitions and desire to defeat Tae-ha. Tae-ha is a slave to his past life and his desire for a better world. Etc, etc. All of them are searching for some kind of freedom, something that will release them from their shackles. They’re fighting for the right to be happy.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Chuno’s women. It’s becoming clearer by the episode that writer Chun Sung Il is trying to show that, back in the good ol’ Joseon days, to be a woman meant that you were a kind of slave. He and PD Kwak Jung Hwan are taking great pains to show a deep consciousness of history (down to the tiniest details) and an understanding of what it was like to live in that time. They are also taking pains to create a commentary and dialogue on that life within the framework of the drama itself.
Take Un-nyun, for instance. She’s the perfect example of the way women in this era were systematically trained to be weak and helpless. Even as she moved from slave to noblewoman, she was never free from such treatment. Nothing was ever expected of her. Hell, I doubt that, in the past ten years, she’s ever used her legs for anything faster than a brisk walk. And yet I hesitate to label her as helpless. She isn’t. Despite being told from birth that she is worthless, and below even fellow slaves who are male, she has maintained a simmering longing for rebellion and a hope for happiness deep inside her. And all of that is slowly bubbling to the surface, and sneaking out in subtle words and glances. She’s intelligent, passionate, and takes direct action to obtain happiness. She’s one character I can’t wait to see develop more and more.
For the past ten years and more Un-nyun has been waiting for Dae-gil, the one person who promised her even a hint of hope for a good life. For a long time even before he “died”, she waited for the impossible chance that the two of them could get married as Dae-gil had promised (words that were so foolish and empty even back then. He never could protect her). Even after his “death” she waited for him. She couldn’t help it. For ten years she lived in the past, forgetting what it meant to live in the present, to enjoy life to the fullest. Even when she was technically free from her history of slavery, she wasn’t truly free. She was imprisoned by the past, by the love and the guilt that haunted her still.
But with this episode, she’s managed to finally let it all(?) go. Fate took a hand in her release of Choco back in episode seven, and now she’s made the conscious decision to let go of the ghosts that have been haunting her, and truly LIVE. Yes, she still thinks about Dae-gil, and some of her actions and motivations can be explained by her love for him. But she’s chosen to move on now.
Significantly, when she sees Tae-ha’s sword, she picks it up, sits down and waits for him. The stone has been replaced by the sword. And as she waits, her face betrays her sense of peace and anticipation. She has something – someone – to believe in again. Love, which she believed was lost to her forever, has snuck up on her and caught her by surprise. And this time, the waiting is not futile. Tae-ha does not abandon her as Dae-gil unwittingly did through death, at least in her mind. Tae-ha comes back for her. And when he sees her, he realizes the significance of her waiting for him, of her holding his sword – a silent form of acceptance of his feelings. And thus the two finally come together and kiss, standing on the threatening cliffs that hint that this is a dangerous love, but a breathtaking, inevitable one as well.
Now it is Dae-gil’s turn to let go. Yet he isn’t quite ready to do so yet. He has been chasing after a shadow for the past ten years (a shadow that literally materialized into his hallucination by the end of this episode), and the realization that all of that chasing was futile is an agonizingly bitter pill to swallow. As he stands there, he sees the ghostly figure of Un-nyun turn away from him and walk away, disappearing forever. It’s as good as an abandonment. And yet their love was always an impossible one. It was always hopeless. It’s as though fate itself is not on their side. But perhaps that is what makes it even harder to let go.
Now, the question is: What happens when Un-nyun finds out that Dae-gil is alive? Will her heart sway? And Seol-hwa stands behind Dae-gil, calling desperately for him to notice her, to SEE her. Will he realize this presence, or will he continue to cling onto the past?
And what about the steadily growing theme of “changing the world”, of destroying social boundaries and fighting for equality and freedom? Where will that be taken?
I honestly can’t foresee Chuno ending without something truly tragic happening to one or more of the main characters. Still, I know that we’re going to have one hell of a good ride going towards that ending. I can’t effing wait.