Gaksital: Episode 3
This one’s a nail-biter. I don’t know if my heart can take all this excitement.
Gaksital is turning to be a dense, rich story, which is a lot of fun to unravel and delve into. Recapping actually enhances the experience on this one, because there are SO MANY characters and relationships that I don’t think I’d catch everything if I weren’t trying diligently to keep everyone straight. Not that I think it’s necessary to know everyone’s names and titles perfectly well just yet; we’re still moving the pieces into place to begin the “real story.”
That phrase is something we read an annoying lot of in media headlines—The story begins now!—which just makes me think, How about the story begins at the beginning? But in this drama’s case, it’s almost like we’re in the prologue stages, and it’s to the show’s credit that it doesn’t feel like a bumbling, extended introduction. Instead, it makes me eager to see the gears moving, anticipating the tidal waves of change to come. ‘Cause right now I love to hate Kang-to (such an interesting, layered character), but I’d really just love to love him.
SONG OF THE DAY
Dynamic Duo – “사선에서 (In The Line Of Fire)” [ Download ]
EPISODE 3 RECAP
Gaksital thwarts Kang-to’s trap to catch him using Mok Dan as bait, and rescues her from the firing squad. Kang-to almost gives himself a hernia screaming in rage, “Gaksitaaaaaal!” (Fyi, Mok Dan is sometimes called Dan; in case it’s confusing, they’re the same person.)
Either we’re dealing with a rotating cast of Gaksitals or this drama isn’t taking care to obscure its stunt doubles, because to date there have been at least three distinct faces under that mask—but no matter because the big reveal confirmed what I’m pretty sure we all suspected: Gaksital is big bro Kang-san, not such a fool after all.
The tables turn on Kang-to at the police station, since it’s Kimura & Son’s turn to smirk at his failure. Even his boss, Director Kono, voices suspicion about this failed capture. Kang-to pleads for another chance and gets it, to which Kenji bursts out, “Why do you trust him and not me? He’s a Korean! He’s on the same side as Gaksital!” To the Kimuras, their Japanese-ness automatically trumps talent, which is exactly why Kono doesn’t trust their judgment.
Kono holds up the photo that shows Chief Kimura and corrupt Judge Choi (now dead) posing together, and asks for an explanation. In the photo, the men wear matching dogi uniforms bearing the same character Gaksital used (carved into the judge’s chest and the banner at “patriot” Lee Gong’s funeral). This indicates a link between Gaksital’s targets; hence the suspicion.
Chief Kimura replies with a veiled warning, turning it around on Director Kono—will he be able to put his sterling career and reputation on the line? The message has to be part bluff, but it’s effective: I’m good to go, but are you prepared to lose everything?
Chief Kimura ends the meeting and leaves. The instant the door closes, Kono growls, “He dares threaten me!” He tells Kang-to that he must apprehend Gaksital, in order to root out Kimura’s corruption.
Kenji visits his henchman Sasaki in jail, ordering, “Kill him, no matter what.” Sasaki worries that since he tried to kill Kang-to once, he’d surely be Suspect No. 1 in a repeat attempt. Kenji assures him with a gleam in his eye, “What are you worried about? Your alibi is secure. After you were caught for attempting to kill Lee Kang-to, you never once stepped outside this cell.”
Kenji reports to his father about giving the order to kill both Kang-to and Gaksital. To which Chief Kimura scoffs, calling Sasaki a fool incapable of the task: “Kono’s on to us!” He reminds his son that Kono a formidable foe, not to be dealt with so lightly.
Kenji asks nervously, “Then what should I do?” Chief Kimura instructs, “Connect me with Tokyo headquarters.”
It says something about the actor’s performance that I actually feel for Kenji when he’s in his scenes with Daddy the Coldhearted, because he’s so clearly desperate for approval and love, and you can see him tremble before him. And then he’s hateful and brutal with others and you hate him again. (Kudos to Park Joo-hyung, a relative newbie who’s been making an impression with this role.)
At Kishokai’s headquarters, a formal proceeding is under way: A subordinate begs for mercy before Kishokai’s chairman, Ueno Hideki, referencing how “it” has been 13 years, and that “that Korean” Kwon Soo-jung has been disposed of. (Kwon Soo-jung is the other name of dead Judge Choi—a secret name Gaksital knew—whom we know was affiliated with Kishokai.)
The issue at hand: This underling reported that independence fighter Lee Sun’s family had been killed years ago (Kang-to’s family), and now he begs forgiveness for his mistake. Demonstrating his unbending ways, Chairman Ueno raises his sake cup—the rest of the room lifts theirs in a toast—and tells the underling, “You have until the time we lower our cups to die honorably.” Kishokai will take care of the man’s family.
Underling thanks the chairman, then takes the blade in front of him. Seppuku is the honorable way, and he complies. The members drink.
In comes a call from Chief Kimura, who apologizes for his inability to catch Gaksital. Chairman Ueno orders him to track down Lee Sun’s dependents, because Gaksital must be connected to him.
Kimura requests assistance, because Kono has grown suspicious. Chief Ueno warns him to make sure no more of their members in Korea fall prey to Gaksital, because they need every man they’ve got. If they lose any more, Kimura’s life is on the line.
Ueno goes home to a beautifully dressed young woman and tells her that the time has finally arrived for her to go “to that place you so wanted to go, Korea.” It’s Ueno Rie (Han Chae-ah), who calls him Father, which makes his inappropriately close hold on her particularly squicky (even if there’s no blood tie).
Rie bows before him and promises to thoroughly trample “the land that violated me.”
In the forest, Mok Dan trudges on alone after Gaksital’s departure. Weak from her injuries, she collapses on the ground and falls unconscious.
Resuming the manhunt, Kang-to and his officers storm into the motel where he’d previously cornered Mok Dan and the circus couple, only today all the rooms are empty. He demands a look in the record book, only to find it empty. It’s a violation, probably done to protect his guests, so Kang-to plays hardball and imposes a three-month ban on operations.
The owner begs for mercy, saying he’ll starve, and Kang-to tells him to think real hard about those guests. Maybe he’ll remember something about them.
Circus boss Jo worries about his members, and answers a call from the motel owner. He was a blubbering coward in front of Kang-to, but now he’s cool and calm as he reports that the cops aren’t aware of Mok Dan’s affiliation with Far East Circus. But this is as far as he can go; he can’t continue to help. Circus boss Jo thanks him.
The circus family pours into boss Jo’s office to ask worriedly if the show still goes on tonight. They’re of split opinion: Ringmaster Shin Nan-da (heh) argues that Kang-to could get them any minute now and wants to flee, but motherly Dong-nyeo counters that if they run out of town, they’re leaving Mok Dan behind.
Jealous circus girl Kye-soon snipes that Mok Dan doesn’t need the help with Gaksital swooping in to save her, and her petty attitude makes Dong-nyeo suspicious: Did she report Mok Dan to the police? We know that she did, but she stutters a defense and the boss steps in and instructs everyone to form a search party.
Sun-hwa, Mok Dan’s friend, figures she’ll be in the woods, since that’s where Gaksital dropped Mok Dan off the first time.
Mok Dan wakes up in a downpour and stumbles on in the dark. She fights her fears with the reminder that she’s Damsari’s daughter, and continues until she hears organ music in the distance. She spots a building down the hillside, and remembers an offhand comment Shunji had said, how he teaches children and plays the organ for them.
Sure enough, Shunji’s inside, playing as he remembers his brother’s accusation that he betrayed Kenji and Dad by defending Kang-to. In walks Mok Dan (whom he still calls Esther), and he rushes to help her. She’s shivering and bloody, and barely has the strength to plead, “Hide me,” before collapsing.
Shunji rushes her to town in his carriage, in a scene that echoes his flashback of rushing his beloved nanny for help when he was a child. His carriage passes Kang-to’s sidecar in the road, both men too intent on their goals to notice the other.
Kang-to arrives at the station, where Kenji jumps down his throat for taking that photo to Kono—Kenji’s his immediate superior, so he should have been consulted. He grabs Kang-to by the jacket, growling that Kang-to messed with a sleeping lion.
Kang-to smirks, not giving Kenji the satisfaction of being afraid, or concerned. Kenij punches him in the mouth for his arrogance.
Shunji takes Mok Dan home and tends to her wounds. When she stirs awake, he asks what happened. She tells him Kang-to is using her to catch Gaksital, and that shocks him. He calls Kang-to a friend, which in turn shocks her and makes her bolt upright, intent on leaving. Then she spies the police uniform hanging nearby bearing Kang-to’s nametag: “You live with him?”
Shunji says this is the safest place from Kang-to, because he’s fixated on catching Gaksital and won’t come home till he does. She’s not comforted by that, her words growing hard as she demands to know how he could be friends with someone like him: “Ah, I forgot. You’re Japanese.”
Ouuuch. It’s a blanket dismissal, and unfair, given that his own love of Korea has created a rift between him and his family. But you could argue that she’s seen enough to be wary; men like Shunji are the rare exception.
Just then, a servant calls out that “hyungnim” has come home. Yikes! Now Shunji does look worried, and he stutters when Kang-to arrives, trying to act normal. Kang-to greets him with a weary smile from his long day, wondering how Shunji could be related to his father. Shunji asks Kang-to to remember their relationship, and thus refrain from hating Dad or Kenji too much.
Kang-to promises, and adds that when “the truth comes out” he’ll alert Shunji first, before even Director Kono. He means the corruption he suspects them of perpetrating, though it goes over Shunji’s head.
Shunji’s on edge as Kang-to enters the bedroom, moving to cover a strip of Mok Dan’s shirt caught in the closet doors. Kang-to sighs about losing her again, that girl who must have a strong connection to Gaksital for him to have saved her three times. Plus, she’s Damsari’s daughter: “If I just catch that bitch, I can get Damsari and Gaksital both.”
Kang-to wonders why Shunji’s standing so suspiciously in front of the closet, teasing, “You got a woman inside?” Shunji protests, but Kang-to clocks his nervous reaction and insists on taking a look, pushing past to open the doors.
His expression changes at what he sees… but it’s not Mok Dan’s face. Nope, it’s her naked back, turned to him like a lover hiding mid-tryst. Ha, smart, smart girl. At least that’s something Kang-to can respect, and he closes the doors quietly. Then laughs at his friend, whispering, “I’m going.” HA.
Mok Dan dresses and thanks Shunji, eager to be off. He asks if it’s because he’s Kang-to’s friend, which makes her ask incredulously, “Do you even know who that bastard is? It’s because of him that my father was caught, and because of him that Father was given the death penalty. Then he took a souvenir photo next to my father, laughing!”
Shunji gives in, but asks her to let him help. He dresses her in a kimono and gives her a ride on his bicycle.
The circus search party scours the woods, all while Shin Nan-da and Dong-nyeo bicker—he refuses to help, and she sneers at his lack of loyalty. It’s here that Shunji delivers Mok Dan, and of course Shin Nan-da is the first to change his tune and welcome her back, shouting, “Dan-ah!”
They get a cursory introduction to Shunji, but Sun-hwa hurriedly escorts the elders away. I wonder if it’s because they’d react to his Japanese identity, or maybe she wants to give them privacy.
Shunji is relieved to hear Mok Dan isn’t planning to leave the city; she won’t because it’s where her father will find her.
The next day, Kang-to assembles his men and tells them that this is their last chance to catch Gaksital. It’s literally a small army that mobilizes, and Kenji watches from the sidelines. Two of Kenji’s henchman tail Kang-to’s unit, so I presume this is Chief Kimura’s plan in action.
Kang-san is back to acting the village idiot and plays games with children. He sees his brother arriving with his officers in tow, and he sighs as if knowing more trouble is afoot.
Kang-to addresses the assembled crowd: “Gaksital is among you. Surrender on the count of three.” Tension mounts as he counts, and it seems like the rebellious young man who beat up Kang-san in Episode 1 now sends him a look—hm, is he with Kang-san, then? Naturally nobody steps forward, so Kang-to orders his men to overturn everything to find him.
Chaos breaks out as the officers grab residents, beating resisters and destroying the marketplace. It’s vicious, and there’s no mercy for the old or weak. Kang-san watches with mournful eyes, and when it’s over, all the men huddle on their knees while Kang-to looks for a resemblance to Gaksital. You couldn’t look without all the beating? Yeesh.
None of them is the right man, so Kang-to orders them to continue. This time he joins in on the beating, wailing on the guy who beat his brother. He’s well on his way to losing control, but Kang-san comes up begging him to stop, crying that he’s not a bad person. The guy is dragged off swearing at Kang-to, which enrages him more, and Kang-san grabs him around the leg to keep him from going after the man.
Kang-to’s so far gone in his rage that he beats his brother, throwing him off and screaming, “Just die! Who needs someone like you?!” He kicks him in the stomach, yelling at him to drop dead, and his brother just takes it. Oof. It’s hard to watch.
It’s Mom who runs in and shoves Kang-to back, asking how he could do this to his brother. Kang-to growls, “That stupid idiot is making me go crazy!” Mom delivers a much-deserved slap, and Kang-to asks how she can still be so doting on such a son. Isn’t she sick of looking after him?
Mom fumes, “In this world where it’s so hard to hang on with a sane mind, he’s better off. With you going crazy, it’s a hundred times better to have lost his mind!”
Mom tells him, “No matter how hard you try, your roots are Korean.” He fires back, “I am Sato Hiroshi! Not that damned Lee Kang-to!”—he uses the Japanese name he was given by the Empire (as all Koreans were forced to take on Japanese names).
Mom can’t take this anymore and says they ought to cut ties now. She can’t abide a son like him.
With all the men rounded up in trucks, Kang-to leaves. The news reaches the ears of Kang-to’s posse at the Angel Club, where they sit around gambling with cards. Their association to Kang-to should be enough to tell us of their political inclinations, but this conversation also tells us that they’re a hedonistic, pro-Japan group, even though some (if not all) of them are Korean by birth.
Take, for instance, careless card-playing Minami Tamao. He was born Lee Hae-seok but uses his Japanese name, and says that Gaksital is giving his father headaches. His mother, on the other hand, is cuckolding him left and right, which everyone knows but his father.
The transition suggests that his parents are the frivolous beings we visit next, at the mansion of count Lee Shi-yong (Ahn Seok-hwan). He’s the man whose sexy wife Hwa-kyung bribed the judge in a previous episode, and both he and the countess are flighty and ridiculous, played a little too over-the-top to be taken seriously.
The arrested villagers are unloaded at the station, and Kang-to orders rifles and snipers prepared. He’s forming a plan similar to the one that used Mok Dan as bait, but on a grander scale. Then, it’s on to the torture.
Kang-to drops in on the young rebel and tells him to ‘fess up about Gaksital’s identity. The rebel sneers, “I know who it is.” Laughing, he says that if Kang-to goes to the village marketplace, he’ll find a number of “Lees, Kims, and Parks” who are trampled on by Japanese dogs: “They’re all Gaksital.”
Aha! If he’s telling the truth and not just goading Kang-to, then there IS more than one masked vigilante. But the man’s laughing answer makes Kang-to fume, assuming he’s taunting him.
Kang-san comes into the police station, yelling his brother’s name in his idiot’s voice. He finds the interrogation room where Kang-to beats the young man, screaming, “Where the hell is that son of a bitch Gaksital?!” Kang-san listens to the pounding with a heavy heart, but when Kenji spots him, he resumes the dumb pose and babbles salutes to the emperor.
Kang-to emerges from the room and big bro perks up. But Kang-to ignores him, letting another officer drag him away and throw him outside. Kang-san lies there, the sound of tortured citizens ringing in his ears, tearing at his conscience.
At the hospital of the Government General of Korea, two parents beg the hospital director to help their son, who has been beaten unconscious. Director Oh informs them that this hospital is only for the Japanese and turns his attention to a new arrival: the glamorous countess Hwa-kyung.
She’s here for anxiety prescriptions for her husband—such a headache does that Gaksital provoke—and is ushered in past the desperate parents, who are left to sob outside.
Director Oh alternately kisses the countess’s ass and ogles it, only too happy to provide her with the sleeping aids she requests. They flirt, then commence makeout session on the couch—so this IS the adulterous mother of Kang-to’s friend Tamao.
Meanwhile, a figure dressed in white creeps in through the window and approaches from behind. One hit to a pressure point knocks the countess out immediately, and Director Oh gapes at the masked Gaksital, here to mete out justice. He charges Director Oh with wielding medicine as power, denying his countrymen care. How dare he call himself a doctor!
Gaksital chokes Director Oh with his cane and holds the phone to his face. The call goes through to Kang-to at the police station, and Director Oh gasps for him to release all the prisoners—otherwise he and the countess, who are being held hostage, will be killed.
The call cuts out and Kang-to orders sidekick Abe and his men to follow. Kenji nods to his henchman; it’s go time.
The police contingent travels en masse to the hospital. Per the conditions, they’ve brought along the prisoners, who are lined up in the hospital courtyard. Kang-to addresses Gaksital inside, ordering him to release the director and countess in exchange for the men.
The countess is released first, shaking in her trauma. Asked about Gaksital, she points a trembling hand up to the roof, where Gaksital dangles Director Oh over the ledge. Kenji orders the men freed immediately because they need to save the director—can’t risk the Kishokai connection, I’m sure—and they do.
Kang-to yells up to Gaksital that it’s time to let the director go, and so he does. Right over the edge of the hospital. Everyone screams in horror as the body plummets to the ground… and yanks to a halt, being tied to a long rope that stops the death drop.
They cut the director loose, and Kang-to fires at Gaksital, who runs along the rooftop. The police snipers have moved into place and fire as well, one bullet catching Gaksital in the leg. He runs on, just managing to clamber into hiding when Kang-to spots him and chases.
Kang-to loses the trail and moves through the empty streets, looking for a sign. And this gives our other sniper—Kenji’s hit man—the opportunity to get Kang-to in his sights. He aims, reading to fire.
From behind, Gaksital sends his whip hurtling at the rifle, diverting its shot and sparing Kang-to.
Kang-to looks up to see Gaksital chasing the sniper. They jump from roof to roof and down to the ground, where they engage in hand-to-hand combat, masked killer in black, masked avenger in white. Even shot, Gaksital is in full control of the fight and knocks the sniper out.
And then hears a gun being cocked, pointed at his head. OH NO.
Kang-to stands there, triumphant. He shoots the cane out of Gaksital’s hand, then the ground around him, demonstrating his accuracy as he calls him a slippery bastard: “You say you’re going to save the Korean people? You think you’re some kind of hero?! People like you, infested with patriotism, have to be eradicated.”
All the while, Kang-san stands there, thinking, “Kang-to-ya, it’s me. Your brother.”
Behind him, the felled sniper rouses and reaches for his knife. Ack! My nails aren’t going to last to the end of this scene, I swear. Kang-to turns his attention to asking Gaksital questions, like why he killed Judge Choi, and what his relationship is to Chief Kimura.
He suggests they go together quietly, just as Kang-san catches wind of movement behind him. He whirls, and the dagger aimed for Kang-to flies into his chest. NOOOO!
Kang-to shoots the sniper, then asks shakingly, “Did you just save me? Why would you do that?” Raising his gun, he demands to know who he is.
And he grabs the mask to tear off Gaksital’s face.
Ack! Will he take off the mask? Does he actually already have a suspicion? There’s a moment before Kang-to raises his gun that last time that makes me think he’s struck with recognition, so even if Kang-san finagles an escape (and hey, that’s perfectly within his powers), I’m pretty sure Kang-to’s cottoned on to the possibility.
I LOVE the idea of what’s to come. As we know, Kang-to’s doggedness in aligning himself with the Empire mostly stems from his desire to fix his hyung. It’s one of those rip-your-heart-out ironies that the very motivation driving him is also the thing that pits them against each other. Like the Gift of the Magi, the twisted murderous version.
Although the issue of the Japanese occupation and Korea’s independence movement seems rife with… shall we say, dangers sparked by nationalistic pride, I actually find myself pleased and intrigued by what this drama is doing. It seems likely to speculate that Gaksital won’t be one of those Hallyu exports hoping to score big in Japan, but at the same time, it doesn’t take a propagandist, anti-Japan stance, either. So far, we’ve got good guys and bad guys on both sides of the nationalistic divide, and even though Mok Dan accuses Shunji of being aligned with the bad guys because he’s Japanese, I think the drama makes it pretty clear that she’s saying that and not, say, the show at large. She’s also the daughter of the independence movement general, so her perspective definitely occupies one extreme.
So instead of painting people with a wide brush, putting them on one side or another, Gaksital has drawn a number of its characters as complex beings with split loyalties to both sides. Or on sides that conflict with matters of their birth. Shunji, of course, as well as Rie. We haven’t gotten to know her yet, but I don’t think it’s a huge spoiler (it was in her character blurb) to say that she’s a Korean orphan harboring a grudge against the mother country that betrayed her, now working as a Japanese spy.
And, of course, there’s Kang-to, with the biggest identity crisis of them all. He just doesn’t know it yet. So excited to see where this goes, I’m just about bouncing in my seat.
- Gaksital: Episode 2
- Gaksital (Bridal Mask): Episode 1
- A detailed look at the main characters of Bridal Mask
- And now, for a look at Bridal Mask’s other leads
- Bridal Mask resumes shoots, releases stills
- Bus crash on set of Bridal Mask results in fatality
- Joo-won tweets from set of Bridal Mask
- Joo Won gets his leading lady in Bridal Mask
- Joo Won takes the lead in Bridal Mask