Friday Drama Review – “Hong Gil Dong”: Nearly Caused My Demise

HongGilDong 셰릴씨의 ‘드라마가좋다’ – ‘홍길동’

그녀가 최고로 꼽는 사극 중 하나인 ‘홍길동’의 평을 들어보자

Quite some time ago now, I had decided it was time to conquer a new genre of Korean drama and, never having seen a historical drama, I set about reading synopses. Hong Gil Dong looked to fit the bill — a Korean Robin Hood? Perfect. Our Robin Hood stories are fun and adventurous so this was sure to be great fun. Yeah. :-/

I will begin by telling you that this is, to date, one of my favorite historical dramas. However, I also experienced at least three days post—drama trauma, being reduced to a sobbing, blubbering mess. OK, I may be a little emotional.

Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 8/10

Hong Gil Dong is a mythical figure is Korea as well known as Robin Hood or King Arthur is to English speaking people. Understanding his story and myth was one of the reasons I wanted to watch this drama as references are made to this character as colloquially as we do with our mythical figures.

The story in set in Joseon times and revolves around a man born illegitimately to a high-ranking official with mad skills in the martial arts. Although initially a happy—go—lucky drifter, he is inspired to fight for justice for the common people. While the Hong Gil Dong is indeed a Robin Hood sort of figure, the character quickly evolves, and the story becomes something more along the lines of “Braveheart”, than the lighthearted Robin Hood adventure tale the synopses led me to believe.

Script/Acting: My rating 8/10

Kang Ji Hwan stars as Hong Gil Dong and Jang Geun Suk as Prince Lee Chang Hui, a young man with the best of ambitions, wanting to protect his people well and seeing the value of Hong Gil Dong. Sung Yu Ri is Heo Yi Nok, a sweet, innocent, but not terribly bright young woman loved by both men. The trio creates a dynamic connection with each other Hisand with the viewers. Jang Geun Suk’s performance was stellar and, in my opinion, one of his finest performances. Kang Ji Hwan also shone, but I have yet to see anything of his I have not liked (yet?) There were a fleet of fabulous, extremely well-written and well-acted characters aside from the main three as well: a mad king played by Jo Hee Bong, Choi Ran as Lady Noh, the ever-present guardian to the prince, as well as the many wonderful oddballs in Hong Gil Dong’s tribe of misfits.

The script itself is a delightful mix of fantasy, comedy and ultimately heartrending, gut—wrenching drama. The characters are built and developed thoughtfully throughout. Although set in the Joseon period, period language is not used, but modern day language, including modern slang.

Cinematography: My rating 8/10

Fun special effects, silly props and great sets made for seriously good viewing. Hilarious costuming that literally looks like badly patched bathrobes alongside spectacular period costumes constantly tweaked the viewers’ sense of propriety. Somewhat distracting are the odd sounds not filtered in many quiet indoor scenes. The following scene is Yi Nok and Hong Gil Dong’s first comical encounter:

Music: My rating 8/10

I think it must be mentioned that only now, over a year later, can I finally listen to Park Wan Kyu’s “Fate” without weeping. Lovely sad songs abound, and the vast majority of the music is more than worthy of listening to more than once. Track lists are available online although not as popular on American music venues.  ”Yun“ is a haunting tune, ”Alone“, heartbreaking, ”Back To You My Tears“ evokes a sense of yearning, ”What If“ beautifully romantic (and sung by Tae Yeon of SNSD).

The real fun, however is the wild mix-ups thrown in here and there. For example, the opening scenes feature a Lord’s extravagant party complete with entertainment that suddenly becomes break-dancing to a thoroughly modern R & B track. One would have thought Shinee and the Wonder Girls dropped in. Moments later it’s a fast-paced fantasy martial arts extravaganza. The music throughout is a wild mixture of modern and period.

Overall Charisma: My rating 9/10

Again, for a drama where to American sensibilities, everything’s is just totally messed up at the end, it was in fact, refreshingly honest, humorous, dreadful, and real. The fact that it evoked such strong emotions is evidence in and of itself that it was drama at its’ finest.

I was intrigued that despite the fact that everything went horribly wrong in the end and my mind was screaming that it was just NOT HOW THINGS SHOULD GO, surprisingly, it all made perfect sense. The final decisions, while sad, we’re inevitable and correct. In an American drama, something ridiculous probably would have happened to make everything turn out all right, but not so in a Korean drama. The fact that it all ended horribly was — well — OK. In fact, it was really the perfect ending for the story. A happy ending would have nullified everything that happened before.

So much more like real life, don’t you think? Dang. That’s kind of depressing. Better go watch something happy now.

Happy Drama Watching!

jang geunsuk

Author: Jini

So Cal 1.5 Generation Korean-American / Teacher-In-Training / Freelance MC and Kor-Eng Interpreter