And now we come to the end of the line. As far as finales go, this was a pretty solid one: It tied up loose ends, gave us a sense of satisfaction and resolution, and was in keeping with the rest of the series. Some bittersweetness counters the laughs, but at the end of the day I’m left feeling contentment at the way our stories wrap up. There’s enough of a glimpse into the future to feel good about the direction it’s headed in, but also enough of an open door to let us imagine the possibilities ourselves.
SONG OF THE DAY
2LSON – “Bye Bye” [ Download ]
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
Kang-rim takes aim at the king’s party, and his arrow splits into many more. Woo-chi sees it with just a split-second to spare and leaps in front of the king and queen… taking an arrow right to the gut. Ack!
Everyone huddles round Woo-chi’s body… which then flickers. On, off, on, off, and then the veil lifts and we see that it was, in fact, Bong-gu.
A flashback to the moment of decision shows us that Bong-gu, the ever-faithful sidekick, was there when Woo-chi received Kang-rim’s threatening message and came up with the idea. Woo-chi tells him no, arguing that it’s too dangerous, but he insists.
Thus now Bong-gu slumps into a lifeless heap, while Woo-chi arrives to save Mu-yeon from the final arrow. He barely makes it and the arrow grazes her face as he diverts it into the wall rather than her head.
It’s an emotional reunion as they embrace, and while she’s relieved to be saved she also tells Woo-chi he should have saved the king and queen. He says it’s not too late, and they head back to the palace posthaste.
Ah, but Bong-gu isn’t dead (yet?). He’s been taken inside and suffers on his deathbed while Chan-hwi holds his head in his lap. There are worried faces all around, but Bong-gu gasps out that he has no qualms about dying if that means he could save the king. He closes his eyes, as though fading into death quietly.
…except Woo-chi bursts in and demands, “Hey you, open your eyes!” Well, that’s not showing an awful lot of sympathy for the injured dude, except that the injured dude’s eyes immediately pop open upon command. Ha, was this a fake-out?
Though the others protest that this is no way to speak to a dying martyr, Woo-chi starts slapping his face around and orders, “Get up, you scared the king!” Oh, Bong-gu’s milking it for all it’s worth, moaning and groaning and giving himself the heroic death minus the death.
Because, as we soon see, Woo-chi flips up his cloak to reveal that he’s fully protected by armor, with shield talismans to boot. Up Bong-gu pops, hearty and hale, though he does add that he hurt enough to die. Yeah no, that’s totally not the same thing.
Okay, he’s not faking everything because Woo-chi confirms that he did get struck by the arrow, but the talisman kept it from sinking in. Woo-chi apologizes to the king for Bong-gu’s whiny exaggeration, hehe. The king is thankful nonetheless and praises Bong-gu’s bravery.
His reward is twofold: the king elevates Bong-gu’s status from the lowest to commoner, and he also gets some loving care by Love Hands. When she sighs that she wishes she had the chance to be a hero so she could quit the gisaeng life, he declares he’ll elevate himself to noble status and take her away from the gisaeng house, to her delight. Cutely, the rest of his buddies are just as pleased about this development and shoot each other grins and thumbs-up.
Hye-ryung is as prickly as ever with Mu-yeon, grumbling at Mu-yeon for making them worry. By now Mu-yeon knows this is just her way of covering up her own worry, and she tells Woo-chi she isn’t offended by it. After all, it’s all because Hye-ryung likes Woo-chi.
That’s a statement that gets a reaction out of him, all, No no, I’m just her oppa! Don’t misunderstand! I’m pretty sure you’re the one misunderstanding, lover boy, but it’s still really sweet that you’re looking around the news office for a good guy to marry her off to.
In pursuit of his new goal, Bong-gu wants to learn to read, since noblemen are literate. His goals are lofty but so is his work ethic, because he spends all his time studying, determined to pass the civil service examination and become a government official too.
Mu-yeon smiles that this is an example of the power of love at work—turning the impossible possible: “Like you coming to save me.” Woo-chi confesses that he was afraid he’d be too late to rescue her, but Mu-yeon says she wasn’t afraid of dying itself; rather, she was more afraid of not being able to see him anymore. There are still so many things she wants to do together, from the romantic (watching the sun set together over the sea) to the mundane (preparing his dinner table).
Woo-chi assures her that it’s enough just that she’s here with him, and they promise to do everything together from now on.
But it’s premature to start celebrating, because we’ve still got a dark power on the loose. Kang-rim hunts down more wizards in the forest and saps them of their powers, intent on building himself back up.
He’s down to his last sidekick, who’s the only one by his side as he absorbs his new energies. The minion worries that he’s going too far with the powers, but Kang-rim says he needs to be even stronger to beat Woo-chi. To that end, he puts his sidekick to the task of locating all the other wizards he can.
Woo-chi has his eyes peeled for news of this sort, knowing that Kang-rim will be moving into action soon, and immediately recognizes the signs when he reads of dried-out corpses being discovered. (He takes a cute moment to marvel over Bong-gu, now reading the newssheets for himself.)
Woo-chi figures Kang-rim is attacking more wizards, but wonders why he’s so determined to take even more powers—they both know that there are adverse effects to overdoing this.
A strange report comes in—it bears a news bureau stamp, but the paper is blank—and Woo-chi uses his skills to make the hidden words appear. It’s a note from Kang-rim issuing a challenge to meet him on the night of the full moon at the top of Mount Taebaek: “Isn’t this a fight that must end with either your death or mine? I’ll be waiting.”
Woo-chi warns Bong-gu to keep his mouth shut, knowing that the others will try to interfere, particularly Mu-yeon. He won’t take Bong-gu with him, knowing that the final showdown is for him and Kang-rim alone.
On the night of the full moon, Mu-yeon stops him on his way out, wanting to accompany him on his walk. It looks like she knows something’s up, but she doesn’t press his flimsy excuse and just asks him to come back soon. He promises.
Woo-chi arrives at the snowy mountaintop to face off with Kang-rim, both of them warning the other to back down, giving each other one last time to give up. Woo-chi urges Kang-rim to give up this path and live quietly, offering to let him go if he makes the promise. Kang-rim scoffs at that, and retorts that Woo-chi’s just afraid of dying; if he begs for mercy now, Kang-rim will spare his life and just take his powers.
Woo-chi says, “I’ve never been afraid of you. I’ve only felt sorry for you.”
Ouch. He says it without malice, just matter-of-factness, and Kang-rim looks a bit stunned at that. But there’s no turning back, and they prepare to fight. Kang-rim growls that this is the price Woo-chi will pay for standing in his path. Woo-chi counters that this is the price Kang-rim will pay for misusing his powers.
They fly into the air, a flurry of fast-flying fists and feet.
Mu-yeon finds Bong-gu, who’s torn between the dilemma of keeping his promise and alerting the others. But she already knows what Woo-chi’s up to, and presses Bong-gu to tell her where.
Bong-gu gives her a talisman to speed her along, then goes to Chan-hwi to let him know. Ha, he starts out by blurting, “Reporter Lee… er, I mean Jeon Woo-chi…” Way to keep that cover. Good thing Chan-hwi’s already in on it. Bong-gu fills him in on Woo-chi’s showdown, and Chan-hwi jumps up and pledges to do what he can to help. Aw.
On the mountaintop, the fight goes all night. They’re evenly matched all the way through, but as night turns to morning Woo-chi’s finally approaching his limit. He’s fading harder than Kang-rim, and doesn’t get up after a blow sends him hurtling to the ground.
Kang-rim prepares to deal the last blow. Woo-chi cautions that killing him isn’t going to change the world, but Kang-rim’s practically manic in his bloodlust and crows, “You’ve lost to me, Jeon Woo-chi! Now beg. Then I’ll save your life.”
Woo-chi doesn’t, and Kang-rim promises to do away with Mu-yeon after him. Bidding him goodbye, Kang-rim starts to suck out Woo-chi’s powers, and Woo-chi, completely exhausted, can’t fight him off. Kang-rim looks increasingly drunk on power as he says, “Now there’s nobody left in this world who’s a match for me.” Then why do you look so lonely?
As he nears his end, Woo-chi hears his mentor’s words ringing in his ears: “Let go of your hate. You must let go of your hatred.” Woo-chi calms himself, his face going peaceful as he abides by those words… and then something changes. Kang-rim falters. The connection breaks.
Both wizards look surprised as the power flow suddenly reverses direction—now all the energy that was pouring out of Woo-chi goes back into him, draining out of Kang-rim.
Kang-rim is utterly gobsmacked as Woo-chi rises, growing steadily stronger, and then he’s the one who falls. He doesn’t comprehend how this could have happened, but Woo-chi informs him that every bit of wizardly power has now left Kang-rim’s body. Plot twist!
Kang-rim bolts, and Woo-chi orders him to stop in a stricken voice—because he’s headed straight for the cliff. But if Kang-rim was lost yesterday, he’s completely broken at this point. There’s nothing left for him anymore, and he says, “I’ve lost my powers. I can’t do anything. And how I wanted to beat you. I didn’t want to lose to you.”
He jumps off the cliff. Woo-chi leaps after him, finding him in a bloody heap at the bottom—alive, but not likely to remain so for much longer.
Mu-yeon arrives at this point, and together they take Kang-rim to shelter. She thinks it’s too late to save him, but Woo-chi decides he’ll have to use his powers to revive him. It’s a dangerous prospect for himself, since he’s already very weak from the battle, but he’s determined to save Kang-rim. It’s perhaps way much more than he deserves, but Woo-chi feels the need to show him that the world isn’t filled only with hate, and that there are more people and reasons to love.
Thus begins the power-infusing spell. Woo-chi begins the incantation, sitting across from a weak Kang-rim—but as soon as the process begins, Kang-rim starts fidgeting, seemingly resisting.
In flashback, we see the memories flitting through Kang-rim’s head, mostly of his conflict with Woo-chi and his days of controlling Mu-yeon. Then as Mu-yeon takes both his and Woo-chi’s hands in hers, scenes of happy memories cut into the bad ones, of their former friendship back in Yuldo.
The spell takes a long while and takes a lot out of Woo-chi, who finally stops some time later, saying he’s used everything he had. He could feel Kang-rim rejecting the energy, and felt as their happy memories broke through the barrier.
This connection also confirms to Woo-chi that Kang-rim felt true regret, and Mu-yeon says, “He may have been waiting for you to help him. I know what that feeling is.”
Finally, Kang-rim stirs awake. The other two watch him with bated breath, anxiously awaiting his reaction. And yet, his face looks curiously blank. Mu-yeon asks, “Do you recognize us? Don’t you remember?”
And then, we’re three years later…
The king is well, and Woo-chi—still news editor—reports that the kingdom is at peace and the citizens prosperous.
Things are in as good shape as can hoped for, and thus Woo-chi asks Mu-yeon if they should perhaps return to Yuldo now. There’s nothing left for them to do here in Joseon. She admits to wanting to go back, but recognizes that he’s quite attached to the people here.
Woo-chi smiles that it’s always best to make your exit while people are applauding, adding that it’s a good world that doesn’t need wizards. He decides that it’s time to go home and work on rebuilding Yuldo up to its former glory.
But first, he has to make sure he’s leaving behind a strong team, and he offers to start teaching Chul-hyun powers. With the warning not to use them for personal gains, he gives him two talismans to affix to the shoulders and teaches him a new incantation for super-strength.
Chul-gyun gets the hang of it, and Woo-chi smiles with satisfaction to have both him and Bong-gu around, armed with a little magical help, to manage in his absence.
Proving that there’s no such thing as an impossible dream, Bong-gu passes the civil service exam. Aw, admittedly it’s a little far-fetched but it’s a heart-warming trajectory for the ever-loyal sidekick so I’m not complaining.
Chul-gyun finds a chance to use his new powers when a loan shark starts bullying his way around the marketplace. It’s the same loan shark as the last time, but now he’s got a bigger, burlier thug on his side to bolster his intimidation factor.
So Chul-gyun comes up, barking at the baddies to stand down, keeping up the appearance of a strong avenger while sweating bullets hoping that his spell works. Thankfully it does, and one punch knocks the thug out cold.
Woo-chi isn’t thrilled that Chul-gyun used his powers in public—he’d warned him to lie low—and the fight attracts police attention. They’re the ones to allude to the loan shark’s influential backer, tipping Woo-chi off to a bigger problem behind the scenes.
The loan sharks are actually supported by the king’s uncle, who’s throwing around his royal weight to get away with his corrupt deeds, confident that he’ll get away with it. And while the king is deeply worried about this abuse of power, he also finds himself in a bit of a tight spot. The queen and Chan-hwi urge the king to take a strong stance against the corruption, saying that the citizens are the priority.
Aww yeah, Bong-gu takes his civil service exam and nets a position in the palace, working in Woo-chi’s own office as one of the reporters. Hee. It’s there that he comes across a bedraggled Oh Kyu, who had caused enough of a ruckus to be arrested and made a government slave, working in the stables. Poetic reversal is poetic.
Oh Kyu begs for Bong-gu to intervene on his behalf, crying that he’ll die in the stables. Bong-gu is a much better man than Oh Kyu (but we knew that) and offers his former boss the position as the office’s assistant. He’ll still be slave class, but the job won’t kill him, and Oh Kyu blubbers his gratitude.
Then it’s time to address the newest corrupt nobleman in their midst, and Woo-chi swoops in as the king’s uncle is delivering a punishment. They exchange a round of “Do you know who I am?”s and Woo-chi’s surprised to hear that gossip has him dead. He proves he’s very much alive and puts Uncle into the punishment chair to get a taste of his own medicine.
Woo-chi declares that a wizard is always a wizard, and furthermore, he lives forever. Ha, are you keeping them in line with false threats of immortality?
Adorably, our slow-as-snails romance between Chan-hwi and Eun-woo seems to have sped up quite a bit—though who else is disgruntled that it had to happen offscreen? Married now, she’s also heavily pregnant.
Woo-chi comes swooping in to interrupt yet another handhold and says his last goodbyes, thanking them for their help all this while. Oh, and they’re having a son.
Then it’s time for Woo-chi and Mu-yeon to leave Joseon. Aw, they’re really leaving? Sob. They assure their Scooby gang that this isn’t a forever goodbye, and that they’re welcome to visit Yuldo anytime. Bong-gu assures them that they’ll keep good watch over things in Joseon, and he looks like he’s just about ready to take over as head superhero. He’s even got Woo-chi’s Clark Kent glasses. Hee.
They pause to drop by Lee Chi’s grave and to see Hye-ryung, exchanging thanks. She’s doing well, as are all our good guys.
Even our not-so-good guys get a bit of a bittersweet finish, as we find Kang-rim toiling away as a blacksmith, steadily making a name for himself as a skilled forger. He works hard and hardly rests, and looks happier than ever. Having no powers really agrees with him.
Then it’s time for a final stop, as Woo-chi drops in (literally) at the palace to give the king his best. He’s also here to remind him of the promise he made in the past, when the king had asked Woo-chi to stay by his side and set him straight whenever he was going astray. Woo-chi informs the court that he’s heading back to Yuldo, but his promise is still in play: If he hears that the king is turning a deaf ear to his people, he’ll come back.
The king’s uncle starts to bluster back at Woo-chi for daring to talk to royalty so rudely, but the king cuts him off. Ah, finally he’s standing up to his elder, and warns that he’ll be holding Uncle accountable for his wrongdoings.
The king thanks Woo-chi for reminding him again and setting him back on the right path. He gives Woo-chi permission to say goodbye to everybody here, and Woo-chi swoops up onto (where else?) the rooftop to give him the warning to those who seek their own gain, ignore their jobs for their ambitions, and carry out corrupt behaviors: “Just know that I, Jeon Woo-chi, live forever! So don’t forget that I’ll find you to punish you for your crimes!”
Pretty decent wrap-up, giving us a feel-good finale that leaves us with a solid sense of a positive future, though not with every end wound up tightly. I was surprised when they had Woo-chi and Mu-yeon leaving Joseon behind, though it does achieve a nice sense of closure. Yuldo was supposed to be a small neighboring nation, so it’s not like they couldn’t ever come back; it’s just fitting that they achieve what they wanted here, and they move on to Part 2 of their good work in the place that needs them more. It’s a little sad, but uplifting all the same.
I was thinking they really were going to kill off Bong-gu, since that’s one of those classic Whedonian moves to pull, where you don’t kill the most important guy but you inject a sense of gravity with the offing of an endearing minor character. And it would have fit the story if we had to sacrifice one of the Scooby team. Of course, when they revealed the fake-out I was relieved, not only because Bong-gu’s a character I liked but because it felt more in the spirit of the show. Always finding the wry moment to undercut the seriousness.
In fact, that’s what is both the show’s strength and the place where it faltered in its latter half, specifically the final quarter. Jeon Woo-chi was never a crack drama for me and I didn’t approach it with blood-pumping enthusiasm, but it entertained me for the time I was watching and recapping it. It could have been a heck of a lot shorter (and should have been, as I’d say of most dramas over 16 episodes), but the pacing was brisk and kept moving forward before a storyline got too drawn-out. It took an episodic approach with short mini-arcs that served the pacing well.
The speed worked with the light comic nature of the show, which is why I wasn’t bothered by the cartoonish bad guys. I would have liked more depth, but the black-and-white nature seems to be part and parcel of the superhero good-versus-bad storyline, so I took that in stride. It’s for that reason that when the show went heavy on the sageuk politics—and subsequently lightened up on the hijinks—I felt the slowdown.
I enjoyed the royal conflicts and particularly liked how the various teams formed and worked with each other, both distinctly separate entities but pointed in the same philosophical direction, with Woo-chi acting as the bridge. It’s just that I felt much more engaged when the weight of the storytelling was more on Woo-chi’s shoulders, rather than when he became the sidekick to the more important stuff going on in the palace. You can’t make the superhero the assistant!
Kang-rim’s wasn’t surprising (this show tended to be simplistic with its redemption arcs so I was expecting it), though I can’t help but think he got off way too easy. Yet at the same time I do think Lee Hee-joon gave Kang-rim a dimension he could easily have been without, and I appreciated the dimension. I didn’t ever want him to get off the hook, but the acting at least made me feel for his character. It was nice to have him get the dramatic heft to counter Cha Tae-hyun’s comedy, since you can hardly expect anybody to top Cha on that front. The man’s a comic genius, and he made so much of this show watchable. Admittedly, the drama’s middle-of-the-road production values and execution would have been a WHOLE lot more flat without him in it. But then again, without him in it, I wouldn’t have been watching.
All in all the show was a nice mental break from some of the dire, melodramatic fare that came before it, and I had fun. It never became the show I think it could have been based on its premise, but taking it for what it was instead of what I wished for, it was an easy, entertaining watch.
Well once I knew that Bong-gu was safe (thank ye arrow-proof talisman armor) the episode really became more of an epilogue, with the narrative climax already behind us. I’m not sure that was the best bet in terms of pacing, though I suppose if you treat Episodes 23 and 24 as one set, they work a little better as one long finale. I have to say, I wasn’t really expecting a redemption arc for Kang-rim, and I’m not sure I buy it either—I believe what happened, but it doesn’t exactly feel earned. If the endgame with Kang-rim was always to bring him back, his villainy really should’ve been written with more nuance. Though compared to how the heroine was written, I suppose he got more layers than most.
Jeon Woo-chi is an interesting case where I thoroughly enjoyed the series and found each episode highly entertaining and a fun breezy watch, but it’s certainly a show that’s lacking a great deal. It’s written with almost juvenile on-the-nose dialogue where people speak exposition (and hell, even feelings sometimes) in place of things that you really wish were left to unravel onscreen. It had some pretty crucial limitations in its execution as well, namely in the CG department, where let’s face it—a show about wizards really ought to have been strongest. While it did the most with what it could sans proper CG budget, it’s just a show and a genre that has a ceiling on how good it can be if it doesn’t deliver the epic digital effects that the material is asking for.
Jeon Woo-chi is a character I happen to love, so while I have warm fuzzies for this version of Woo-chi almost by default, I’m also very critical of him too. Overall he was never as impish as I wanted. He was too good, and it felt like 90% of his character was set from the get-go, which doesn’t leave very much room for growth and change. I do think Cha Tae-hyun’s Woo-chi is instantly lovable, but on the downside there’s a limit to how seriously you can take him. I wish the drama had done a better job of capitalizing on the comedy potential, and just made him more mischievous, zany, balls-out funny, and more of a troublemaker.
Where they got it right was all the sidekicks (Sung Dong-il stole the show as Bong-gu) and the coming together of the Scoobies, which filled the show with warmth and great character moments. This show did a fantastic job in making side characters interesting, so that the world always felt bustling, like each character was living a full life offscreen, and just popped in when the story brought them back around. The collection of villains left a lot to be desired—though all good characters, all set up well, they were then left underdeveloped and operating for tens of episodes on the same agenda they began with. And while I’m glad the romance wasn’t really the focal point of the story, it was a weak link, and the more the hero was driven by his One True Love, the more the weakness showed. Thankfully it remained a secondary thread, though I do wish the heroine had gotten a cooler story, because her character development got shafted in the deal.
Overall I’m glad that a comic book comedy sageuk even got made and performed decently ratings-wise, because while it’s not new by any means, it’s becoming less and less popular a genre. But I like that for every serious, dark broody Iljimae, there’s a fun, witty Jeon Woo-chi who knows how to punish the wicked and still have a good time. It takes all sorts of heroes to make the world go ’round, and I for one like the thought that at least one righteous avenger out there giggles at his own bright ideas and isn’t above playing a petty trick just for fun. Who says you can’t save the world and be a smartass about it?
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 23
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 22
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 21
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 20
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 19
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 18
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 17
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 16
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 15
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 14
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 13
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 12
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 11
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 10
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 9
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 8
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 7
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 6
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 5
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 4
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 3
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 2
- Jeon Woo-chi: Episode 1