Gu Family Book: Episode 3
Now that our hearts have been thoroughly broken by the beautifully sad love story of our story’s prologue (seriously, I was pretty wrecked over it, having grown so invested in their relationship), it’s time to start mending them with the introduction of our actual main characters.
I was so sucked into the world of the parents that I wondered how the “real” storyline would match it. I wasn’t afraid that it would be bad, just curious to know how much the tone would shift. I’m happy to report that while the mood lifts, it retains that sense of romantic whimsy that I loved about the opening, as well as that line of pathos running through the show.
SONG OF THE DAY
Lee Seung-gi – “숲” (Forest) [ Download ]
EPISODE 3 RECAP
Backtracking from the river scene that saw our baby hero’s adoption by a nobleman, we return to the scene of his birth. As Seo-hwa goes into labor in the cave at Moonlight Garden, our friendly monk So-jung sees the blue lights in the air.
This sign of Wol-ryung’s existence sends him dashing for the cave, but it’s Seo-hwa and her newborn that he finds instead. She sits in lifeless silence, and when he comments on the boy resembling his father, she answers dully that she doesn’t know; she hardly remembers Wol-ryung’s face.
At that, So-jung hands her the wooden dagger that was to be Wol-ryung’s rescue, if only he’d thrust it into her heart. She asks why he didn’t, and the monk replies that this was the extent of Wol-ryung’s love for her—immense and whole-hearted , and without desire to kill her and spend the rest of his days alone. Seo-hwa takes the dagger in tears.
Seo-hwa returns to the village, thinking about the weakness and foolishness of humankind, and how one only realizes the value of what is lost after losing it. She arrives at the estate of Jo Gwan-woong and emerges from the crowd with the wooden dagger.
She thinks, “Don’t forgive me” as she raises the dagger to strike. She slashes him across the face, a nonfatal wound, and he looks up at her in shock. She adds, “This foolish woman who dropped her beloved down a bottomless cliff and thought to kill his child—do not forgive me.”
In rage, she raises the dagger again to strike a deathblow.. and gets cut down by his many guards. She falls dead at his feet.
Ah, the narration comes from the contents of the letter she has left behind with the baby, asking monk So-jung to look after her child, knowing she’s on a suicide mission. She pleads for him to spare the child a lonely life like his father’s, and allow him to grow up among people like an ordinary person.
Hence the riverside outing, where So-jung strategically floats the baby to be discovered by nobleman Park Mu-sol. I have to say, either So-jung did his research or we got awfully lucky, because we can surmise that Lord Park is a decent man from the way he just jumps into the water to retrieve the baby, and how he accepts him as his own. Sure, there’s a bit of fake fortunetelling by the monk to assure him the boy is a luck magnet, but it seems safe to suppose he’s in good hands.
So-jung puts a beaded bracelet on the baby’s wrist and makes Lord Park promise not to remove it before the boy reaches the age of twenty. It’s similar to the bracelet he had once thrown onto Wol-ryung, which had blocked his supernatural powers—insurance that the boy will have as normal a life as he can as a half-spiritual being, I presume. So-jung’s explanation is that the bracelet is a charm warding off evils, and as long as he raises the child with the bracelet until he’s twenty, he will receive much good fortune.
Lord Park is, naturally, skeptical. So-jung declares that the forest, wind, and trees will provide proof of his words—and then a sudden gust of wind blows through the area.
Thus begins the life of Choi Kang-chi.
Some time later, this tale has become a myth unto itself, recounted in the marketplace to a crowd of rapt listeners. The storyteller assures the crowd that the man did indeed raise the child, and everything he did prospered, and he became the richest of rich men. His estate grew to palatial proportions, his coffers flourished, and he even set up his own establishment housing foreign ambassadors and travelers, called Hundred Year Inn.
Furthermore, Park Mu-sol was a benevolent man who treated even thieves with understanding, helping rather than punishing, and the people grew to respect him as a great man.
A question comes from the crowd—it’s DAM YEO-WOOL (Suzy), asking what became of that baby. The storyteller hems and haws: “Well, about that…”
Cut to: Hundred Year Inn (the Park estate), where Lord Park’s faithful servant bursts into the yard shouting for Kang-chi, who has caused yet another accident.
In the main courtyard, an angry man stands with two beat-up underlings, demanding Kang-chi to present himself. Ha, did those three bruisers get pummeled by a teenage pretty boy?
It’s a different young man who steps forward to take charge: PARK TAE-SEO (Yoo Yeon-seok), Mu-sol’s serious and competent son. Tae-seo diplomatically agrees to look into the matter, but the victims aren’t willing to be pushed aside another minute. Kang-chi! Here! Now!
Time to actually meet Kang-chi, who’s busy playing… Peeping Tom? Oh, you. He sneaks up to the house where a young girl sits with her maidservant—it’s PARK CHUNG-JO (Lee Yubi), Mu-sol’s daughter and Tae-seo’s little sis.
Kang-chi creeps into the room, grinning to himself as he anticipates scaring Chung-jo like a little boy out to play a prank… but she just turns to him and doesn’t bat an eyelash. His face falls hilariously.
He’s also nursing an obvious crush on her, and when she mentions her upcoming wedding, he overcompensates with forced laughter.
They all freeze up to hear that Chung-jo’s mother is outside with an important guest, and the music turns dire. Chung-jo urges Kang-chi to slip out the back window, because it would look pretty bad in front of future mother-in-law. Kang-chi turns serious, realizing that she’s actually considering the marriage set up by their families, looking aggrieved.
Mom is Lady Yoon (Korean women keep their surname upon marriage, so she isn’t Lady Park) and she knows something’s fishy even though Kang-chi’s gone when she enters. She asks, “Was it Kang-chi again?” They may have been raised like siblings, but Kang-chi is of low birth and it’s important that Chung-jo remember that, she warns. These marriage arrangements (to the son of a government minister) are very important and she can’t risk any impropriety to ruin those plans.
Kang-chi sits on the roof, having heard the exchange, and heaves a sigh.
Tae-seo finds him on his way out, stern and disapproving. Kang-chi lies that he wasn’t actually inside, he was totally just passing by. But there’s a more pressing issue at hand, and he takes him back to deal with the men in the courtyard.
Tae-seo mutters under his breath for them to take care of this quietly and cleanly, but Kang-chi the hothead just stomps up and growls, “HEY! YOU! Who d’you think you are?” Words are exchanged, tempers flare, and Kang-chi ends up kicking the leader down.
Tae-seo struggles to keep order, worried that a disturbance will ruin things for their very important event today. He quickly offers to pay off the brawlers, and the leader tries to extort a few more coins out of him, which gets Kang-chi even madder.
Tae-seo agrees to the exorbitant 30 nyang offer, ordering Kang-chi to shut up when he protests the indignity of being made to pay up. But Kang-chi can’t stand for that, and he increases the amount to 50 nyang—with a catch, of course.
He grabs a wooden broom and SLAAAAMS it down—his beaded bracelet glows red—through the stones paving the ground. Catch him and he’ll pay up, and throw in an apology on his knees while he’s at it.
Tae-seo glowers in frustration as the ruffians take the deal and start the chase. Aie, this isn’t going to end well is it?
The melee travels across the property and toward the pavilion where Chung-jo sits with her mother and serves their guest tea. The fight comes crashing right into their courtyard, and although Kang-chi evades deftly, he ends up crashing right into the tea table while the thugs yell, “Get him! Fifty nyang!”
Even in the midst of the furor, when Chung-jo asks if he’s okay he looks up at her dazzled for a moment: She’s preeeeetty. Ha, boys.
But then Tae-seo leads a retinue of armed guards into the courtyard, followed by his stern father, and the sight of Lord Park has everybody on their best behavior (even the thugs).
Under Lord Park’s eye, Kang-chi kneels in the courtyard and the gang of thugs is given their promised cash. Kang-chi stews to see them get what they want, but his shame in front of his surrogate Dad is greater and he bows his head penitently.
Lord Park asks “which side” drove him today—Kang-chi only ever fights for two reasons, either when somebody troubles the household or when he sees the weak and underprivileged being tormented. Kang-chi answers miserably that this was all his own fault for being bad-tempered and inadequate and apologizes for it.
But Lord Park responds open-mindedly, saying that a young man exerting some physicality is no great flaw—but he is an adult now and ought to have dealt with the fuss in a more responsible manner. He tells Kang-chi to remain kneeling and reflect on his wrongs quietly.
So already we can tell that Dad is awesome, although his wife is a little less awesome in that she’s itching to kick Kang-chi out for good. Lord Park reminds her that there’s only a month left until he turns twenty, which barely placates her. You can’t really blame her for it since he is a rabble-rouser, but her dislike goes back to Day 1 when her husband brought home the baby while she was pregnant with Tae-seo.
In a flashback, we see that day when Lady Yoon objects to raising the child. Her fears grow when the child is accidentally injured—and when his bracelet falls off, they see the wound heal over right before their eyes.
The shock sends her into painful early labor, and Lord Park contemplates the “evil-warding” bracelet. He asks the child whether he’s truly good fortune, or a cursed being. As he places the bracelet back on Kang-chi’s wrist, a wind blows through the house. Almost immediately, he gets good news: He has a healthy son, and his wife is safe. Hot on the heels of that fortune, he receives word that his ships that were believed sunk at sea have returned safe and sound.
Another fierce wind blows through the house to confirm that his suspicions are correct: Kang-chi is good luck, not bad.
Out in the yard, Kang-chi kneels all night, his stomach growling just as Chung-jo appears to offer an apple.
She asks why he did it, telling him that kicking up that fuss wouldn’t be enough to break her engagement. Ah, so his fighting wasn’t driven by selfless or heroic desires today.
There are things in life you have to just accept and endure, she tells him, and this marriage is one of them. He grumbles that she shouldn’t marry if she doesn’t want to, but she points out that protecting something requires sacrifice and patience. He asks what she’s protecting. Chung-jo: “Family.” She knows she has no power as an aristocratic lady, but if she can help her family through marriage, it’s worth it to her.
Kang-chi offers to do all the protectorin’ around here, reminding her how strong he is. She answers that there are things brute strength can’t solve, like politics.
He asks point-blank, “Then when you take away all that politics, what are your feelings? Do you like me?” He does his trademark count-to-three maneuver to get her to answer, and looks adorably confused when it doesn’t work on her. Aw. He starts counting to three again, and that’s when she leans in to kiss him on the cheek.
Kang-chi freezes in shock, disbelieving, and then it sinks in and he leaps up to howl in victory. He’s so cute.
But standing in the shadows to ruin this sweet moment is Lady Yoon, looking incredibly displeased. A flashback to her last conversation with Lord Park tells us that she was worried about this very thing, even though Lord Park had told her she was worrying for no reason because the kids grew up as siblings. You can’t argue with a woman’s intuition on this one. She vows to herself that if her husband won’t cast Kang-chi out, she will.
In the village, Yeo-wool gets her palm read by a grandma fortuneteller who gives her a disapproving once-over and cluck-clucks that Yeo-wool is doomed in love because (s)he is a weak little stick-man, not broad and strong like all the girls like. Yeo-wool has to correct her by saying she’s female, and granny clucks even harder—what man will like her, looking all manly like she is?
Yeo-wool’s silent bodyguard GON (Sung Joon), suppresses a smirk, and it’s to him that she complains afterward, worried that she’ll die alone. Are arrow-shooting, sword-wielding women really so unappealing to men? Gon hesitates a moment too long and she assumes that’s a yes, though from the way he tries to explain himself I’d say Gon’s nursing a big fat crush on her.
So-jung happens to be drinking at the table over and he pipes up that everybody’s got a mate somewhere, and that’s enough encouragement for Yeo-wool to thrust her hand in his face and ask for a reading.
But the moment he sees her hand, he sobers up and says that although she is destined to meet her mate soon, it’s a match that she’d be better off escaping if she can. She doesn’t understand how she’s supposed to avoid a match fated for her by heaven, and So-jung sighs that fate involves choice—she can choose not to pursue that match, and the relationship can stop there.
She grumbles that he’s just telling her to die old and alone, then, and turns to go. So-jung leaves her with one last warning: The one she meets under the peach blossom tree with a crescent moon is an incompatible match—she must avoid him at all costs.
Lord Park receives a letter stamped with a bow-and-arrow design; the message inside has him looking alarmed. He rushes out immediately on an overnight trip. I reaaaaally don’t like the shrewd look that comes into Lady Yoon’s eye the moment her husband is gone…
Tae-seo sits Kang-chi down to go through mounds of inn records, which has Kang-chi moaning and groaning. It’s all, Punish me with physical labor instead! Make me clean! Anything! Don’t make me use my brain!
Lady Yoon has her maid deliver Kang-chi a note. He reads it, his face darkening immediately.
Lord Park arrives at a mountain stronghold, where warriors are trained with military precision. The leader of this establishment is Dam Pyung-joon, the same skilled soldier who once led the manhunt for Seo-hwa and the gumiho. The men greet each other as longtime friends.
Tae-seo chuckles to think of all the brain-pain Kang-chi will have endured with the inn books, only to find the room empty. He just sighs, thinking Kang-chi shirked work.
Kang-chi is actually outside, thinking he’s been called by Chung-jo for help, and he looks for her near a dark shed just as we see shadowy figures advancing from afar. Ack, so Lady Yoon didn’t just want Kang-chi away-gone, she wanted him dead-gone?! That takes her from pissy mom figure to evil, as far as I’m concerned.
The maidservant emerges and tells him that Chung-jo’s waiting for him inside. He enters the dark shed and makes his way through it, and finds Lady Yoon glaring at him. She accuses him of daring to harbor base feelings for Chung-jo.
Kang-chi apologizes, but assures her that his feelings are honorable. That doesn’t make her any happier, and she calls forth her guards.
Meanwhile, Dam Pyung-joon briefs Lord Park on the reason for calling him: a rash of brutal murders. His investigators were also killed while on the job, and Dam Pyung-joon warns that Lord Park may be next.
Elsewhere, a large and armed entourage travels along a road, and arrives at its destination. The nobleman inside the palanquin looks out, revealing his face: Jo Gwan-woong, our hateful rapist-murderer, out for more evil-doing.
Back to Kang-chi, who is tied up and beaten. Lady Yoon gives him the choice to voluntarily leave and never return, or be made to never return. The guards are reluctant, but she gives the order and they have to obey.
But Kang-chi manages to use his strength to knock them aside, and as his bracelet glows red, he bursts free of his ropes. He runs away, with the guards chasing.
A short distance away from Jo Gwan-woong’s entourage, Yeo-wool and Gon keep watch, having been sent out as scouts. They head back home after getting the info they need, but hear a sound in the woods nearby and split up.
It’s Kang-chi, pleading with his hyungnims not to keep attacking—he doesn’t want to hurt them. They toss powder at him and wonder whether he’s a beast from the way he’s so hard to take down, and their leader (Park Joo-hyung, aw, playing a nice guy for once instead of Gakistal and Jeon Woo-chi’s antagonists) gives the order to subdue Kang-chi without harming him. Hm, so they’re not robots under Lady Yoon, good to know.
Kang-chi keeps fighting, and then a veiled figure flies in to challenge the crew. It’s Yeo-wool, who chides them for fighting an unarmed man. The tell her to step out of it, but she wonders whether this is her troop of serial killers and won’t back down.
Yeo-wool takes them all on easily with her sword skills, and Kang-chi can only watch in his drugged daze. She holds them off, then grabs his hand and leads him away, while Gon jumps in to finish off the fight.
As they run, Yeo-wool’s hat falls off and Kang-chi gets a glimpse of her face, blurry in his daze. He wonders, “Chung-jo… is that you?”
Just then they’re stopped by one of the guards, who charges with sword raised. In a flash, Kang-chi whirls them around, protecting Yeo-wool with his body and catching the guard with the blunt hilt of his sword.
They stand there staring intently at each other, and Kang-chi assures her not to worry, because he’ll protect her. And then he passes out in her arms.
Blue lights rise in the air surrounding them, and as she looks up at the sky, she sees a crescent moon, suspended over a peach blossom tree. The monk’s warning echoes in her ears.
As I said, the show keeps that touch of romantic pathos, which hits a really wonderful balance of emotion. We’ve only just met these characters—it almost felt like watching a second pilot—but already I like them and feel for them. We’ve barely even gotten to the issues that’ll crop up in the future (given that our hero doesn’t even know anything about his true nature) but what we’ve got is a firm foundation for him as a normal guy who feels the full range of human emotion (as his mother wished for him)—and it’s always that humanity that gives us our emotional groundedness, despite all the fantasy/supernatural/whimsical elements also in play.
Kang-chi’s unknown parentage is both a boon and a stigma in his current world, because while he has to bear the burden of being low-born (and therefore unfit to marry Chung-jo), at least he’s spared the ostracism that would come with being a known half-breed. People whisper that his superhuman strength can’t be normal, but it would be so much worse if they knew he really was (to use their term) a monster.
I like that while Kang-chi feels fully human in this way, that doesn’t immediately make him accepted; he’s got his own barriers to overcome even as he has to deal with the biggest one of all. You know, once he finds out there’s a whole other process to go through to be fully human. And Lee Seung-gi does a really nice job of adding a layer of yearning to his expressions that really gets me; there’s depth to his reading of the character. I mean, we’re all already on Kang-chi’s side, but it’s always rewarding to get more layers.
The setup with Kang-chi being taken in with the Park family totally tugs at my heartstrings, and it’s a great one because he’s been given this amazing life and a great best friend in Tae-seo, and a sweet first love in Chung-jo, and a wise surrogate father in Park Mu-sol. Really, that should outweigh the bitterness of Lady Yoon, murder attempt notwithstanding.
So while I can see where certain love triangles/squares are being set up and how conflicts are being planned for the future, the development of these characters feels full of enough real emotion that I’m in it for their journey.