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New Series on the Horizon!

Friday, January 18, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve been footling around the released dramas, not wanting to commit myself until I had sampled the interesting ones. Hong Gil Dong looks very promising. It’s a historical drama with modern elements slipped in here and there for comic effect. While the start has been a bit uneven, what with all the adjustments to the new ‘fusion’ concept, it is undoubtedly one of the most interesting shows out there this year.

Hong Gil Dong is a fictional Robin Hood-esque figure in ancient Korea. He robs the rich and gives to the poor, but even so, he finds the suffering of the poor to be appalling – in seeking truth, he stumbles upon a mythical kingdom and becomes king.

This adaptation starts off by inventing a funny prelude to his career as professional bandit. Born as the illegitimate son of a prominent court noble, HGD has long since given up his dream of following in his father’s footsteps. Several flashbacks show the youthful Gil Dong being reprimanded by his father for harbouring ambitions beyond the possibilities given by his station in life. After he finds out his mother was murdered by his father’s jealous wife, Gil Dong is discovered by a Taoist, who teaches him how to fight, among other things. To his master’s dismay, however, Hong Gil Dong does not make good use of his training, instead choosing to drift from day to day, gambling/lazing his life away.

By portraying Hong Gil Dong as a good-for-nothing, the writers put him in the role of the reluctant hero, and of course, create many more opportunities for misunderstandings and humourous situations.

The series begins with a bandit raid at a noble party (with exaggerated fighting scenese reminiscent of old-style Chinese kungfu series). The bandits’ reception by the nobles and the commoners (very different) tells the audience that they aren’t just random rabble coming to rob the rich, but a well-organized group of thieves bent on distributing justice and wealth to all.

Hong Gil Dong appears to be a playful, highly skilled fighter who loves the adulation of the crowds almost as much as he enjoys giving corrupt officials their comeuppance. (Also fangirly squeals from me at the sleek hair.)

We flashback to three years ago, with Hong Gildong sporting a crow’s nest of permed curls and indulging in gambling, philandering and general delinquency. The townsfold are so afraid of him that they dive for cover whenever he fights. If his lazy swagger is any indication, the last thing Hong Gil Dong wants is a life of industry (albeit illegal industry, but at least it’s work, you know?)

No Korean drama is complete without its full complement of relationships, however, and we cut to a dark and gloomy boat. The female lead Heo Enok (portrayed by Song Yuri) is current starving belowdecks when she realizes that her grandfather has been hiding food from her (not terribly grandfatherly behaviour, I’m afraid). A comic tussle ensues, and Enok makes her triumphant way into the upper part of the boat to enjoy her red bean bun in solitude. There, lounging against the rail, stands a pretty boy dressed all in black. Did I mention dark and gloomy? (Just as an aside, the boy’s inherent angst factor makes him the obvious second lead, or so I deem, and I’m proven right, yay!)

Anyway, he is revealed to be none other than Prince Chang Hwe, younger half-brother to the (really insane) king of Korea. He’s just come back from a 3 year long mission (fraught with dangers, we are sure) in China and he is ready to make the next step, i.e. seize the throne.

Enok, with her eventually legendary luck and balance, gets into trouble with him because he thinks she’s a spy, while the poor girl was just admiring his profile. (Paranoid, much?) In a running gag throughout the first few episodes, she keeps losing her food to the Prince’s appearance.

Various things happen, Gil Dong shows off his fighting skills in a cyclone, the prince is really really good at brooding on his tragic past – please, we do not need more wooden expressions, and Yuri is cluelessly wander-y. Yuri and her (adopted) grandfather cook up a scheme to scam money from their supply of ‘special Chinese medication’ by marrying off Yuri to whoever can beat her- and of course, no one can. Hong Gil Dong is planning to go to China, hence he corners her and insists on learning Chinese.

Enok, on the other hand, just wants to sell her medicine.

I’ll stop with the recapping here because this is one of those dramas that you have to really watch to understand what we’re all raving about. Some shows are awesome to start with and descend into mediocrity, some shows are awesome and stay that way, and some start kind of shakily but get so much better as they go along that you wonder at the end how you’d ever considered missing this series.

Well, to me, Hong Gil Dong is in the latter category. It’s not just the lead actor’s charisma, which I admit is considerable (and hopefully take him far in the entertainment world). The show starts off nice and expositional, with the first three episodes mainly consisting of humour punctuated by minute progresses in the plot. I’m hoping that things will heat up in the fourth episode – the preview shows that all the loose plotlines are starting to meet, and yay!

I, for one, cannot wait.



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