Gaksital: Episode 9
There’s a new secret cover in town, and it’s not village idiot but… smiling, charming, singing, fun-loving guy? I suppose it makes sense, given that that’s essentially the opposite of glowery, shouty Kang-to, and it’s a refreshing change to see a different side to him—even if it’s faked. In the absence of actual happy Joo-won, I’ll definitely take the illusion of happy Joo-won.
SONG OF THE DAY
Juniel – “Mask (가면)” [ Download ]
EPISODE 9 RECAP
Shunji becomes a police officer and Kang-to’s superior. I don’t know whether I’m more worried that Shunji will fall to the dark side, or whether his good nature will get his heart trampled by the dirty politics of the police station. Which doesn’t mean it can’t be both.
Right away Shunji gets a bit of a jolt when his father warns him not to trust Kang-to; he’s Director Kono’s man through and through, and Kono wanted Kang-to to have Shunji’s position. Shunji replies naively that he and Kang-to are on the same side, and that Kono is his superior officer. Dad retorts that he’s been monitored by Kang-to on Kono’s orders. No trust, no same side.
Simple-minded Abe assumes that Kang-to’s friendship with Shunji will make their working relationship pleasant. Kang-to doesn’t look as convinced.
Shunji addresses the officers under his command as their new leader and makes his position clear: the police are an essential function of the Japanese empire, and while he is in command, he will uproot dissenters and rebels who disrupt public order. So he’s taking the hard line, Kimura style.
This new side of Shunji sends Kang-to into a flashback to their adolescent years, when they first met:
Young Kang-to is beaten by several students, led by Kenji, who kick him around and hit him with kendo swords. But Kang-to doesn’t fight back, nor is he angry; he desperately pleads for Kenji to teach him kendo. Shunji comes upon the scene and steps in, getting his brother to back off, and Kang-to goes from kneeling at Kenji’s feet to grabbing onto Shunji’s, begging to be taught.
Shunji tells Kang-to to seek out a proper dojo; this is a private club only meant for this school’s students. Kang-to cries that he can’t afford that, and offers to work doing laundry or cleaning. His brother has been captured by soldiers and there’s nobody left to provide for his family but him. At least if he’s good at kendo, he can take the police test and become an officer.
Shunji is moved, and thus begins his private instruction of Kang-to and their budding friendship.
On the day of the police kendo test, arranged tournament style, both Kang-to and Shunji are participants and root each other on as they move up the ranks. Then comes the finals, where they’re pitted against each other and come up evenly matched… until Kang-to surprises Shunji with a direct hit, sending Shunji sprawling. Kenji is shocked, but Shunji smiles up in congratulations.
Kang-to asks Shunji if he lost on purpose because it was him. Shunji smiles, “Don’t misunderstand. I just didn’t want to become an officer.” The flashback sequence is both heart-warming and -breaking, because it’s all in the past. Bygone days, bygone friendship?
Flashback over, Shunji concludes his speech by ordering his men to find all the rebels and arrest them. Dismissed.
Shunji sends Kang-to to his office for a one-on-one, and only then does he drop his hardass routine and smile, asking, “How’d I do? Did I overdo it?” Oh phew. I was nervous for a moment there. Kang-to smiles back, also relieved.
Shunji says he had to come out strong in the face of all the nepotism talk. Kang-to points out the absurdity of Shunji becoming a cop overnight, and guesses it was to save the girl. But before he can get a response, a peevish Koiso storms in to ask why Mok Dan was let go. Kang-to steps in to tell him to zip it; don’t question his superiors. I love that he plays bad cop (literally) to spare Shunji from answering, even as he wonders the same thing.
But Shunji answers that he hasn’t let that circus or the girl go; mobilize the unit. That shuts Koiso up, and Shunji confides to Kang-to that while his father agreed to let Mok Dan go this once, he won’t in the future.
Mok Dan is equally suspicious of the police’s motives for letting them go and insists that it’s another ruse to lure in Gaksital, whom she’s sure is still alive. Boss Jo speculates that the trap may be for Damsari; he’s probably on his way back here, in which case he’ll come looking for Mok Dan.
As we saw on the train, mustachioed Damsari has in fact returned, and is in the middle of some kind of operation. He arrives at a hotel lobby with his ladyfriend/accomplice and finds what he’s looking for: a note pinned to the bulletin board addressed to Choi Tae-gon. Inside is the message: “Kyungsung Girl’s School. Enter school.”
The circus bickers, as is their habit in all circumstances, about the mystery of their release from jail. Dong-nyun narrows her eyes at Kye-soon and wonders at her connection; the police came to get them right after she arrived.
Kye-soon plays the outrage card, that cow. Admittedly it’s the right reaction for someone who actually is innocent, but since we know she’s a big fat liar it just makes me want to slap her. More than usual, I mean. She counters that it’s probably Shunji who ratted them out.
And then, just as Boss Jo advises his crew not to lump Shunji in with the other Japanese, in comes the police, led by… Shunji. Oy.
Everyone gapes as he gives the order to keep the circus on 24-hour watch: “We merely lacked evidence that you are acting with Gaksital. The suspicion has not disappeared.” He declares that if one of the circus members is caught participating in rebellion, “Everybody here will die.”
Mok Dan thinks how just the other night, Shunji had pleaded with her not to surrender. He’d been so adamant about not letting her walk into certain death that she asks if he put on that unwanted officer’s uniform for her.
Poor Shunji, whose cover now forces him to freeze out the ones he cares about. He bites out that Gaksital killed his brother, and she refuses to say anything despite knowing who the guy is: “Why would I wear this for you? Don’t mistake anything. I put it on to avenge my brother’s killer.”
At the Angel Club, Kang-to and buddy Tamao chuckle over Shunji finally wising up and joining the police. Tamao smirks that Shunji stole away his promotion, but Kang-to waves that aside: “What’s the point of promotion? With my mother and brother dead, tomorrow holds no meaning.” It’s a gloomy thought but he says it with a reckless smile, adding, “Just today, this moment—that’s the best.” It’s carpe diem, twisted and backward—enjoy today ’cause life’s a bitch and then you die.
Tamao segues (awkwardly) into the topic of Lala (Rie), asking about their relationship. Kang-to boasts that she’s fallen head over heels for him, natch. Club madam Tasha wonders why hardworking Kang-to’s drinking here in the daytime, and guesses his new motto: “Que sera sera.” Bingo and wink. Aie, so playboy Kang-to is his new cover? Winks, smiles, and kisses galore? I could really get onboard this.
Kang-to emerges from the club, smug smile turning serious as he spots Baek Gun in disguise across the street. He gives him a secret-spy nod, and Baek Gun sets off towing a rickshaw.
The money-grubbing governor general, Wada, is busily drooling over his new bribes when Kono arrives. Their last meeting had been contentious, but to Kono’s surprise, Governor Wada chuckles over the show he’d put on. Chief Kimura was trying to get between himself and Kono, and he’d played along and took the council of five’s bribes. He laughs and calls it “cute.” Yes, dirty money and backdoor dealing, so adorable.
Kono points out, however, that this Gaksital problem is not over. The body hasn’t been found, and if the hero pops up again, “What happens to your reputation, hyung?”
So Governor Wada calls Chief Kimura, while the latter is worrying about his fellow council of five-r, bank president Jo. The man has been so busy carousing with his gisaeng ladylove that he has been completely out of touch. As we know, however, said gisaeng happens to be the woman Kang-to flirted with for information, so I’m smelling more to the story than simple lust.
Governor Wada makes very clear that the only reason Shunji was appointed to his office was because he killed Gaksital. Therefore, Gaksital must never be seen again in the city, got it?
Chief Kimura tries to cover his ass by saying that new Gaksitals may pop up, but that’s not the right answer either, and the governor barks at him angrily that that can’t happen, either. Kimura promises no further Gaksital incidents; he’ll vouch for that.
Wada gets off the phone and shoots a wink to Kono. He can act the hardass too, when it suits him.
Chief Kimura calls in Shunji and warns him that Gaksital’s reappearance will be the end of them both.
In the city, a wary crowd gathers around a lurching rickshaw—ah, Baek Gun has carried out his task. And then, out tumbles a blindfolded man, naked but for his drawers. Bank president Jo, so that’s where you’ve been.
On his chest are the words “retribution for wickedness”—the same warning used by Gaksital in the past. The townspeople perk up at the suggestion that their hero is still alive, and then they point up to the rooftop: “It’s Gaksital!”
It’s Kang-to, of course, and Abe draws his gun. But he’s outnumbered here and in enemy territory; a village boy bites Abe’s leg, and others join in the assault. Bank president Jo is recognized as the thief who stole the people’s money and runs, as does Abe.
Kang-to uses his cane/flute to launch a pellet at the retreating villain. It knocks Jo down, but he gets up and keeps fleeing the growing mob. Abe and Jo find asylum within the police station gates, and the officers hold the crowd at bay. But the people are satisfied having chased off the baddie with his tail between his legs, and cheer.
Abe helps President Jo inside, then gasps out to his colleagues, “Gaksital…” Shunji grabs his gun and darts outside, scanning the scene intently. But the only person in the yard is Kang-to, dressed in his snazzy suit, talking to a guard.
Kang-to manages a credible surprised-face at the news, though it’s markedly less outraged than before he was Gaksital. C’mon, can’t you shout louder than that? Shunji demands every single file on Gaksital to study.
Chief Kimura has to be sweating bullets, and he heads to President Jo’s hospital bedside with Shunji. Jo is drowning in mortification, though sadly, not drowning outright; he describes being kidnapped in the middle of the night and awakening to the crisis we all witnessed.
Shunji furrows his brow questioningly when his father asks Jo whether he can complete his task. Jo vows that yes, he must repay the bastard for this. Chief Kimura dismisses Jo from the operation, but But Jo blurts out that he has worked faithfully for Kishokai and requests to be left on the case.
Shunji wonders, “Kisho…kai?”
The countess presents Rie (as Lala) to the governor general as the star singer who will perform at the anniversary event. Rie clocks his interest in her, not that it’s hard, since he’s almost drooling literally. Oh, he’ll be so easy to manipulate.
Mok Dan performs her mask-changing act that night, and in the audience are several officers keeping an eye on the circus. Her final change reveals a bridal mask, which prompts circusgoers to exclaim, “It’s Gaksital!”
The officers overreact and pull guns on Mok Dan; it’s an act of defiance, and Koiso fumes while his officers search their quarters. But in come officers wearing different uniforms, announcing their arrival from army headquarters; they’ve been assigned to take over watching the circus.
Ah, but interestingly, we may recognize these men from an earlier scene; they’d been dressed as nondescript laborers then and recently took up rooms in the motel. The same motel that, as we know, has been friendly to circus refugees in the past. Hmm….
Koiso looks them over suspiciously, but Team 2 comes out strong; the leader kicks him down and growls that they’re on a mission, and he’d better not blow their operation. If he opens his mouth and they fail, he’s a goner. Koiso nervously salutes.
The leader orders Mok Dan and Boss Jo dragged off… to their rescues, of course. Because waiting in a hidden room is Damsari and his accomplice. Oh honey, do you seriously not recognize your own dear dad because of a measly fake mustache? That cracks me up.
Father and daughter reunite, and the lady accomplice greets “Comrade Jo.” They’re members of the independence army and longtime acquaintances.
At the Angel Club, Kang-to’s back onstage singin’ his oppa song, only today he’s able to finish the performance with the requisite carefree ‘tude. He’s informed that a guest awaits him in the VIP room, and finds President Jo here to confer about his kidnapping.
Gaksital has stolen important ledgers from him, “And if they find their way into [Kimura] Taro’s hands, I’m done for!” He’ll turn out just like his bank employees, whom he believes Chief Kimura killed (in the faked Gaksital attack.)
Kang-to asks for more information, but President Jo loses his nerve and suddenly shuts up, asking him to pretend tonight’s meeting never happened.
Baek Gun advises Kang-to to send those ledgers to Kono and nail Kimura. But Kang-to wants a bigger fish: “I didn’t wear the mask just to make Kono happy.” He needs to find the connection between Kimura and his father’s betrayers.
Damsari only now learns of his wife’s death in Manchuria, though it happened a decade ago, and grieves. Mok Dan asks to be allowed to help him now, and he takes her up on the offer: He needs her to put him into contact with Gaksital, because with his help they have a much better success rate. She promises to try.
Kang-to rides deep into the mountains and comes to a stop near the spot where Mok Dan had written her name (Boon-yi) in blood as a message to him. He takes down the makeshift flag and smiles to himself, just as he hears the sounds of running feet.
He ducks behind a tree as Mok Dan arrives, sees the cloth gone, and calls out, “Young master, you took it, didn’t you? You’ve recognized me, haven’t you? You know I’m Boon-yi. But why don’t you show me your face? I want to see you. I miss you, young master.”
Kang-to watches as she breaks down in tears, holding back his own. She takes out another message and ties it to the same limb.
As soon as she’s gone, he takes it down to read: “There is someone who wishes to meet you. I will wait here every day until the sun sets.”
Kono gathers his officers and declares that the governor general is ready to strip Shunji of his badge for lying about killing Gaksital. He uses this as leverage to pressure Chief Kimura into revealing his connection with the dead Judge Choi. If they want to capture Gaksital, the chief must reveal what the (Kishokai) mark on their uniforms means.
Kimura restates his earlier warning—that if Kono presses, he puts himself on the line. It worked back then, but not today: Kono orders Kang-to to arrest Chief Kimura immediately.
The order shocks both Kang-to and Shunji, but Chief Kimura stoically takes it, allowing himself to be cuffed. It’s Shunji who bolts upright as though to step in, but his father shakes his head no.
The count moans in bed, whining about his unrelenting insomnia. The reappearance of Gaksital has everyone on edge, and Dr. Oh confesses that he’s uneasy too, seeing what happened to President Jo.
Shunji arrives to request an urgent meeting with the count, alerting him of his father’s arrest. The only person to rein in Kono, Shunji says, is the governor general. For that, he requests the count’s aid.
To the men’s surprise, the countess speaks up to assure Shunji not to worry. Surely his father didn’t go into this without preparation: “The police chief has a hidden card.”
Cut to: Rie, Ms. Hidden Card. The countess enlists her help, which sends “Lala” bursting into the governor’s office in a state of distress. The governor is always eager to be of service to a pretty lady, and she cries over a man “who’s like a father to me.”
Next thing we know, Kono is being summoned by the upset governor. How could he arrest the sitting police chief? Kono feels perfectly justified given Gaksital’s return, though he’s chagrined that the arrest didn’t prod Kimura into talking about his secret group.
The governor confides that there’s this young lady who thinks of Kimura as her father. If Kono lets Kimura free, the governor will get the needed information from her.
Kang-to sits in an interrogation room with Chief Kimura, but after extended silence he figures this is going nowhere. He gives up on the interrogation and suggests chatting about more personal matters: “Why do you hate me so much? Is it because I’m Korean?” Kang-to tells him he’s Sato Hiroshi; after becoming an officer, he has never considered himself Korean.
Aw. He looks so sincere and hurt that I almost feel sorry for him, thinking maybe he could have used some paternal direction, too. Until he bows his head and requests, “Please acknowledge me. I wish to wear the same uniform as you.” Aha, so it’s another strategem to ingratiate himself with the enemy, though he declares that he just wants to prove his loyalty to Kimura and Kono.
Kimura smirks, “Don’t package your ambition for success as loyalty.” He says that if the country to annex Korea hadn’t been Japan but the States, “You would have become a John or a Michael. Whether I live or die, I am Kimura Taro.”
Shunji storms in and flings a document in Kang-to’s face: Kono has issued the order to release him. He asks, “Lee Kang-to, you’d handcuff my father? I won’t forget.”
Shunji reports to his father that all of Gaksital’s victims have been Kishokai members: “Let me into the organization.” His father declares him unready and Shunji still doesn’t seem to know what Kishokai is, but offers himself up anyway: “I will join Kishokai and become his target.” He’s deeply offended at Kono’s conduct and vows to receive his apology. Dad smiles, which can only mean bad things.
At the station, Shunji addresses his officers and lays it out: He got this position by killing Gaksital, but since the dead man has returned undead, some may believe Shunji unfit for the job. If so, speak now.
Nobody says a word, so Shunji accepts that as tacit approval: “I will, at all costs, kill Gaksital with my own hands.”
Frankly not the most exciting episode, though it had some nice moments, in particular the glimpse of the beginning of Kang-to and Shunji’s friendship. The other elements all seemed like extravagant setup for future episodes, which is well and all (action is most satisfying when it comes out of plot that’s adequately thought out), only it makes for one episode of sitting through all setup and no payoff. Sigh. Why do I only get the setup episodes?
I loved the flashback because it highlights just how deep and meaningful their friendship runs, just at a moment when its fracturing seems imminent. (The ending of this episode highlights this point, although I’d argue that it’s repetitive and therefore dulls its impact. ‘Cause really, once one of you has already thought to have killed the other, coming back to a vow to kill doesn’t quite feel so dramatic, does it?)
In any case, we’d seen teenage Kang-to only in the most briefest of flashes, so this episode gave our first explanation of how he turned from the carefree younger brother into the fierce workaholic he is today. There’s something heartbreaking about seeing him beg so earnestly for the only way out he could see, that he could have a prayer of achieving. As has been mentioned before, Kang-to was the dummy kid brother, all brawn with little care for brainpower, since they’d all assumed that Kang-san would go to university and be the successful provider. When Kang-to cried that this was the only way he could see to support his family, he wasn’t kidding; it was really his one lifeline to living above base poverty.
This explains a lot about his desperation, his fierce clinging to his choice, the strength of his devotion. This is a man who makes up for insensitivity with intensity; he’s all blazing emotion.
Timing-wise, it’s significant that we get this flashback now and not earlier, because an Episode 1 explanation would have seemed cute, but lacked the irony and bittersweet touch. Frankly, it hurts more now. Ow. Hold me.