Reviewed by: jotaro

November 14, 2010

Rating: five

Chuno/Slave Hunter

This series is a martial arts historical drama that was a treat to watch for its unrelenting pace and extraordinary realistic fighting scenes. The story of the Slave Hunter is layered with plot and subplots. The series will feature constant flashbacks and key plot twists. Coupled with this very layered story, are excellent martial arts battles in virtually every episode. Our lead protagonist Lee Dae Gil (Jang Hyuk) seems to use a combination of sword fighting with a Wing Chun style of one to one combat. This is an impressive vehicle for all of the actors/actresses involved not only because of the martial arts sequences but also for the excellent story and cinematic direction. It is easy to see why after the first few episodes Chuno went to the top of the TV viewer ratings in Korea and stayed there till the end of the series’ run.

The Story:

Our story begins with a narrative about the history and background of the Joseon dynastic period of Korean history. It was a time of an excessive use of slaves and the subjugation of the lower classes by the oppressive nobility. Where there were slaves, there were also slaves who would run away from this excessive oppression. The ones who were given the task to capture these runaway slaves were called slave hunters. The opening narrative sets the tone for the rest of the series.

Three mysterious riders come into a shabby hovel in the middle of a vicious windsweeping desert sandstorm. They are three slave hunters, Lee Dae Gil, General Choi (Han Jung Soo) and the energetic Wang Son (Kim Ji Suk). These three form an unbreakable bond as they hunt runaway slaves for the local authorities. In an amazing display of martial arts skills, our three protagonists capture all of the escaped slaves. However Lee Dae Gil is also a just man who quickly sets free the vulnerable slaves, a young girl Eun Sil (Joo Da Young) and her mother.

Much of the story revolves around Lee Dae Gil’s hunt for his long lost love, the very beautiful Hyewon (Lee Da Hae). His obsessive search was the result of the tragedy of the loss of his true love when Kim Seong Hwan (Jo Jae Wan), Hyewon’s half brother, murdered Lee Dae Gil’s father and burned down his ancestral home. Thus his goal was to find his love but also to get his revenge. The central character, Lee Dae Gil will go through all kinds of experiences that are deeply affecting and heart-wrenching. It is a wonder that he barely maintains his sanity.

The pace of the series is unrelenting thanks to the machinations of one of the Joseon emperor’s (Kim Kap Su) ministers and his son-in-law Hwang Chul Woong (Lee Jong Hyuk) who pursues our heroes. The heroes are joined in their adventures by Sul Hwa (Kim Ha Eun), a young dancing girl who they rescue from a dubious life of street dancing. She seems to slowly become infatuated with Dae Gil whereupon their relationship will begin to be confusing especially for Sul Hwa. At first Dae Gil is commissioned by the emperor’s advisor to capture Song Tae Ha (beautifully acted by the rugged Oh Ji Ho, our other lead protagonist) but in the course of his their pursuit, the three slave hunters also look for the ever elusive Hyewon.

Relentless in his pursuit of the child heir and the slave hunters is Hwang Chul Woong who eventually corners our heroes in the conclave where the child heir (child actor Kim Jin-woo) to the Joseon throne is hiding. Sporting his rakish looking dark hedge hat, in spectacular fashion, Chul Woong singlehandedly nearly kills both Song Tae Ha and two of our slave hunters, general Choi and Wang Son. Dae Gil discovers that general Choi and Wang Son are missing and in his dogged pursuit he presumes the worst that they have been killed by Chul Woong. Poor Sul Hwa, is constantly abandoned by our heroes but her scenes are nonetheless touching because of her reaction to Dae Gil’s myopic pursuit Hyewon.

Meanwhile, back at the home base village, the slave initially captured by Dae Gil, Eop Bok (Gong Hyung Jin) is a wily sharpshooting master of the fuse gun who periodically guns down members of the oppressive nobility with unerring accuracy. Eop Bok unwittingly becomes the leader of the slave rebellion along with a brilliant, learned master swordsman played by actor Park Gi-ung. Together they harass the status quo of the oppressive establishment. However, all will not be as it seems on the surface so expect the unexpected as this plot thread will resolve in a satisfying conclusion.

When it seems that all hope is lost for Dae Gil, he discovers just barely too late that Hyewon has married Song Tae Ha but the contrasting feelings of hurt, anguish and some relief wreak havoc on the already fragile emotions of Dae Gil as he discovers that his long lost love is still alive and married. However all hope is not lost when Dae Gil’s two stalwart companions, general Choi and Wang Son somehow have survived and end up in the protection of One Ear (Ahn Gil Gang). I begin to wonder how the two slave hunters survived from Chul Woong’s brutal swordsmanship unless there was a public outcry from television viewers who may have thought that the death of their favourite endearing heroes was too premature.

In the last episodes events begin to heighten into a crisis flashpoint as the slave rebellion gathers more steam and Song Tae Ha, Dae Gil, Hyewon, Sul Hwa, general Choi, Wang Son and others band their efforts to stand against their oppressors. Dae Gil and Song Tae Ha in particular, begin to take the fight to Chul Woong in their effort to seek the help of their Qing sympathizers. Chul Woong’s evil and yet honour-bound determination gathers steam in the final episodes.

While Dae Gil and Song Tae Ha are trying to find their way to the safety of the Qing camp, Hyewon with the help of One Ear, decides that it is best to seek for safer ground for the sake of the young monarch. She runs with a small contingent of Qing bodyguards who had come into the camp to rescue the young king. What happens next I will leave unsaid as events will lead to an emotional high with some of the key antagonists and protagonists dying off. Suffice it to say that the series ends with a semblance real hope.

For powerful acting, excellent direction, for music, art direction and an excellent supporting cast, some of whom I did not mention, and for some excellently staged martial arts scenes Chuno deserves *****stars. No wonder this series is popular in many asian countries.

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