Rugal: Episodes 1-2 Open Thread
Vigilante justice, my favorite. OCN might not make the most well-rounded dramas, but I’m here expecting some stylized storytelling, gratuitous gunfire, and awesomely choreographed fight scenes — and hey, they delivered that. Here’s what Rugal’s premiere week was like.
EPISODES 1-2 WEECAP
Rugal opens with the tragic (and grotesque) moment that changes everything for our hero. While happy wedding footage plays on the TV, police officer KANG KI-BUM (Choi Jin-hyuk), lies bloody on the floor. He’s beaten to a pulp, but more importantly, his eyes have been gouged out (thank you, broadcasting rules, for blurring the details of this gore). His wife is on the other side of the room, dead. The culprit? A powerful organization known as Argos.
It’s quite the scene, and note, to start on, but that’s the basic premise of Rugal. We’ve got a justice-loving hero (a favorite kind of role for Choi Jin-hyuk, surely) who’s just had everything taken away from him. What more is there for him to lose? What else is there to drive him forward besides revenge? It’s a typical setup, yes, but it’s been used successfully for centuries, really, so let’s see where they take it.
Because I’m me, I can’t encounter a story where eyes are gouged out without immediately going straight back to some Greek tragedy. Sophocles’ Oedipus famously gouged out his own eyes when all the terrible prophecies around him came true — it was an act of total despair, and incredibly symbolic. Now, I’ve not read the webtoon source material here, so I’m not sure how much that writer/artist cares about this parallel (and I’m not sure if our screenwriter does either), but heck, I do, and I’ll be paying attention to this motif the whole time, you can be sure.
As expected, Rugal spends its first week in plot setup, but it’s a backstory that needs to be told. So, we meet Ki-bum doing his high-stakes policing, follow him to the fateful night when he lost his wife (and his sight) — and then we see what happens next. Because that’s when the story really starts.
Argos might be this hugely powerful crime organization, pulling the strings behind almost everything in the country, but there’s also a secret resistance force known as Rugal. Pretty soon, Ki-bum goes from being blind and incarcerated, to getting pulled into this underworld of vigilante fighters. The storyline really smacks of La Femme Nikita here — and it even feels like it, with its bunker-like headquarters and rough, mean team of fighters that are legally deceased back in the real world.
But in Rugal, they’re not only given life again, but a bionic edge. For Ki-bum, as we know, he receives bionic eyes. With them, he gets so much more than vision, though: he’s got a database literally right there in his head, and it’s pretty obvious why this gives him such a benefit as an agent.
Although the whole setup feels a little recycled right now, it’s actually, in essence, a story I quite like. The blind and bandaged Ki-bum has a chance for escape, and decides to follow the guiding voice of Rugal director CHOI GEUN-CHUL (Kim Min-sang), who leads him out of captivity and into the arms of Rugal.
The drama is in a bit of a hurry to get to its action, though, so we blast pretty fast through Ki-bum’s arrival, bionic surgery, recovery, and training. By the time Episode 2 opens, the Rugal team (of four, hah) are already on an anti-Argos mission. I shouldn’t complain, since this is what the drama is about… but I found myself craving a little more about the people. In other words, I need more character development.
Seeing Ki-bum mourn for his wife is all well and good — and it’s no fault of Choi Jin-huk’s — but it’s hard to connect to emotions the drama has only given a few minutes of screen time to. In order to get behind Ki-bum’s vendetta, as an audience, we need more. As a viewer, I want to feel his emotions as readily as the drama can make me feel his physical agony (because the man takes quite a beating in these two hours).
I’m a strong believer in characters-first writing, so when I’m watching a story about two police partners reunited in a “second life” as bionic fighters, well, I’m expecting at least some kind of emotional connection between them. Instead, Ki-bum and his partner SONG MINA (Jung Hye-in) — who was shot in the head by Argos and subsequently saved by Rugal — start sparring almost immediately. I love a nicely choreographed fight scene just as much as the next girl, but truthfully, I want a connection to these characters more than I want slick punches and nano baths.
Despite my complaints, I’m curious to see where Rugal will go after it has laid its groundwork. The drama has made it abundantly clear that Argos is a dangerous foe — and its new leader HWANG DUK-GU (Park Sung-woong, who is nailing it as a bad guy these days) has no problem shooting people point-blank, beating them with baseball bats, and anything in between.
Soulless villains are one thing, but soulless villains with depth and layers? They’re a whole other thing, and can really electrify a story. With Park Sung-woong in this role (and clearly enjoying himself), I’m hoping for a villain with dimension. Dimension — that’s the word. Bring a little more of that to Rugal, and I think we’re good.
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