Hong Gil Dong


Reviewed by: sukting

December 13, 2008

Rating: two

How long
25 episodes

Foreword

Based on a fictional book about a Robin Hood in Korea, this drama is very loosely based off of that book and the time it was set in. How did Ji Hwan and yuri fare in their debut period drama? Plus Geun Suk to be part of the love triangle, the three got entangled in love, hate, loyalty and betrayal. But as expected, only one side can win.

Story/Introduction on characters

1. Hong Gil-dong: Kang Ji Hwan
Hong Gil-dong is the illegitimate son of a high ranked minister. A local monk takes him under his wing and teaches him martial arts. Hong Gil Dong is inspired to fight for the injustice in this society that divides people into nobles and ordinary citizens. The former enjoys all the privileges due solely to their birth. He decides to become a rebel.

After befriending Yi-nok, he dreams of going to China to earn more money. He also adore the sunglasses that she gives him. Later, he goes onto serious stuff of becoming a rebel. He often disguises as court official to mingle in the crowd to later achieve his aim. Although he helps Chang-hwi to become the emperor, he isn’t used to be a court official after discovering how little he can do. He retreats to the wilds. But Chang-hwi is wary of this threat and is forced to eliminate him.

You may watch out for Kang Ji Hwan, who also gives a great range of emotions, both in voice and facial expression. He shows great range in the role from serious to downright childish.

2. Huh Yi-nok: Sung Yuri
Yi-nok just returns to Korea from China with her grandfather. She is tomboyish and loud. They make their living by putting on shows and selling their special brand of medicine in the marketplace. Of course, the medicine is of ordinary value and Gil-dong gets conned for buying it. A fortune-teller once forsees that she will become an empress one day by looking at her hairpin and she believes it. It later proves to be the truth.

She is glad that he doesn’t go to China. She is jealous whenever Gil-dong goes to the brothel to look for information so she tags along, disguising as a man. But during a failed attempt, Gil-dong fakes his death in order not to implicate her. But even a masked him fails to keep the truth from her. Gil-dong dresses as a court official while she dresses as a courtesan. Her feminine look is very attractive and he is drawn to her.

She rescues Chang-hwi and is nearly killed twice by him. She doesn’t know that Chang-hwi falls for her as she falls for Gil-dong. She learns that her grandfather isn’t her real grandfather. His death gives her a hard blow as she gets injured when failing to protect him and even worse when she learns that Gil-dong’s father is in charge of the killing of her family. She faints after piercing a sword into Gil-dong. (Does it ring a bell as it often happens in Hong Kong dramas?) Gil-dong escapes death but both are in a dilemma.

Chang-hwi becomes the emperor and restores her status. He has decided to take her in as his empress. However, she isn’t happy and misses the gimes with Gil-dong. Knowing that Gil-dong is going to be killed, she forsakes everything and runs to the wilds. Both perish together happily although they are trapped. (Sounds like ‘Princess Chang Ping’ to you, isn’t it? )

Sung Yuri improves from her performance from ‘The snow queen’. She is not afraid to make herself look rugged and boarish in many scenes. She shows Yi-nok’s genuine concern upon discovering Gil-dong and cries, thinking that he is dead. She does has chemistry with Ji Hwan in this drama although they work together for the first time.

3. Lee Chang-hwi: Jang Geun Suk

Lee Chang-hwi has been told since young that he is the rightful heir to the throne which is usurped by his half brother. He also returns from his exile in China and is plotting to overthrow the emperor. He fails in certain attempts and nearly wants to kill Yi-nok to silence her for saving him. However, he can’t bear to do it. The hairpin is his late mother’s accessory and Yi-nok picks it up to wear it.

He also can’t believe himself when he keeps returning for her to save her from the court officials when she is in trouble. And also to help her to save Gil-dong too. He starts to smile whenever with her. She manages to melt him with her silliness. Twice, Yi-nok faints in his arms after knowing the two bad news. The timing has never been more perfect.

He crosses swords with Gil-dong several times. Both are never friends as they work for different purposes. Yet, Gil-dong decides to help him to become the emperor to create a better world for the poor. Chang-hwi stumps on his real identity that he isn’t of royal blood. His family has deceived him all along. But he still has to go ahead with his plan and becomes an unhappy emperor.

Even after knowing that Yi-nok has never loved him, he keeps her in the palace. The court hardly improves under his rule. He has to kill Gil-dong’s gang to consolidate his position but he sheds tears as his beloved has chosen to die with Dil-dong without regrets.
Unlike Ji Hwan who looks trendy here, he looks very traditional. And this proves to be a smart move. It must be tough for Geun Suk to act with actresses older than him since ‘Hwang Jin Yi’ and to struggle through emotional scenes at such a young age. However, he provides quite good acting.

4. Suh Eun-hye: Kim Ri Na
She is an official’s daughter but is always curious how the outside world is. She disguises herself as a courtesan and befriends Gil-dong. She starts to fall for him but often lands him in trouble as she insists of getting him. First, she helps him and later tries to trap him. The opposite of love is hatred indeed.

She is jealous of Yi-nok and thus tries to harm her often. Luckily, Chang-hwi often stops her. No matter what she does, she still fails to win Gil-dong’s heart in the end. Her acting is only passable – just like how the other actresses will do – staring at others most of the time.

5. Hong In-hyung: Kim Jae Seung
He is Gil-dong’s elder brother who will belittle him whenever he has the chance. Gil-dong bears with his insults and even has to become his scapegoat at times for his misdeeds.

6. Suh Yoon-sup: Ahn Suk Hwan
He is Eun Hye’s official father who has one purpose in life – to capture Gil-dong to get the reward. He is angry with Eun Hye who keeps going against him. Even trapping her at home prove futile.

7. The monk/Hye Myung – Jung Eun Pyo
Gil-dong learns all his martial arts skills from him. Jovial and wise, he teaches him whatever he knows.

8. Hong Pan-suh: Kil Yong Woo
He is Gil-dong’s father. He doesn’t bother to save him even though he is framed. He wants to defy his existence all along. Sigh – if so, why have an affair to have him born then? That settles Gil-dong’s mind to become a fighter for the poor later. He has not expected him to become a rebel. Still, you will be won over by his courage when he isn’t afraid to die in Yi-nok’s hands but he asks her to let Gil-dong off.

9. Lee Kwang-hwi: Jo Hee Bong
He is Chang-Hwi’s elder brother. As what you have guessed, he is another brainless emperor. Jo Hee Bong is an excellent actor as he ranges from looney to lucid. Sometimes, he displays insanity but still has some conscience and intelligence.

10. Chi-soo: In Sung
He is Chang Hwi’s henchman who is loyal to his master. He feels that his master is too soft-hearted so he will seek to kill on his behalf.

Interesting facts

Hong Gil Dong was a fictional character from a Joseon dynasty story. He robbed from the rich so he could give the money to the poor. Although Ji Hwan was not the first choice for the role, his interpretation was well-received although the viewership never reached 20%.
This was the first periodic drama for Ji Hwan and Yuri so they doubled their work. Geun Suk was steady all along since he had worked in ‘Hwang Jin Yi’. All his seniors teased him to be an ancient man at his age.
Both actors Joo Ji Hoon and Jo Hyun Jae were supposed to star in this drama as Hong Gil Dong and Chang Hwi but they both were unable to make a compromise with the production agency. Both dropped out of the drama 2 weeks before it was slated to start filming.

Conclusion

I don’t know why – I normally can’t sit through more than 5 episodes for Korean ancient dramas. This drama proved to be the same. When my colleague coaxed me to watch with her after renting it, I started reluctantly but soon had to give up after 3 episodes. She told me the rest of the storyline and I was so thankful to be spared of the time could have wasted.

I only know on how lowly an illegitimate child’s identity is after watching this drama. Even if Gil-dong is born into a rich family, he enjoys no privilege and his treatment is no different from a servant. He keeps getting bullied. No wonder he doesn’t wish to be the underdog anymore and wants a better life.

It was nonsensical initially – sunglasses? But after learning that Yi-nok gets it from the Ching era – okay, acceptable. But seeing Gil-dong donning it most of the time can be annoying. It seems that his hairstyle is his real hair. That makes him look out of place among the rest. Maybe it was just filmed for the fun of it as we can see that the headdresses for most artistes are not of the traditional kind.

Fighting scenes wise – it’s not really fantastic. They are all very basic – just like ninja handling the swords. There is nothing to rave about. I would advise all to watch real periodic dramas from Taiwan, China or Hong Kong if fans are looking for something different.

I feel that this drama gets ideas from ‘A step into the past’ or ‘Princess Chang Ping’. It is hilarious in the beginning but gets melodramatic towards the end. To please the audience? But this planning doesn’t go in line with the atmosphere then.

A person who helps another to become the emperor becomes a fugitive to be hunt down – how unoriginal. It seems that Korean ancient dramas only has this traits – orphans seeking revenge, the rich looking down on the poor and an ancient robin hood. How boring can this be! Still, I must compliment on the cast as they have tried their best.

Korean fans might be having fun in this drama but not for me. It runs in the same pattern as ‘Ijimae’ so I don’t really like it. Sometimes, I feel like asking the manga artists why they come up with similar plots. Did they enjoy copying from each other? Probably, I should stop watching Korean ancient dramas to prevent further disappointment.

Sukting’s ratings :

On acting : **1/2 (Scale of 5)

On story : **1/2 (Scale of 5)


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