KDRAMAGUK : Korean Drama Soup

a landing site for quick, completely biased, and totally snarky korean drama reviews


Friday, March 26, 2010

Chuno (2010)

추노 / Slave Hunters

(Jan – Mar 2010)

who’s in it
Jang Hyuk (Tazza, Bright Girl)
Oh JiHo (Super Rookie, Couple or Trouble)
Lee DaHae (My Girl, Hello Miss!)
Han JungSoo (Painter of the Wind)
Kim JiSuk
Kim HaEun (Single Dad in Love, Hometown Legends)
Danny Ahn (g.o.d - member, Dream Team 2 - member)

what’s it about
Jang Hyuk is a lean and mean fighting machine…an infamous hunter of runaway slaves and one that is frighteningly good at his job. His zeal for dragging the flown back to their coop is both ruthless and without an ounce of compassion (kinda of) but the root reason why he chases slaves with such single-minded obsession is not for belief in slavery or the politics behind the institution, or even money, but a personal vendetta and a fractured heart. You see, this man’s one purpose in life is to find his first love, the slave who is partially responsible for the death of his entire family…the woman who brought the end to his former life of comfort as a young nobleman.

Parallel to DaeGil the Slave Hunter’s story, or perhaps more accurately, perpendicular to it, a falsely disgraced general of the royal military, now branded as a runaway slave, makes his daring move after learning of intrigues hurrying forward in his country.

Lee DaHae is the woman that stands like a stalk of bending barley at the center of this burning hot field of almost-naked men.

All their lives are destined to converge—for better, or for worse.

A measly 24 episodes


wildcard factor
Jang Hyuk – this actor was so flippin’ amazing in this role that I worship at his feet and even the dirty Chuno ground he ran across. That’s all I gots to say. Well, no, that’s a lie. I have a lot more to say on the matter:

I mean, aside from the fact that he’s one hot potato of a man, he brought slave hunter DaeGil to exploding fruition. His pain became my pain. I became hopelessly invested in his character. The nuances in his acting, the subtle ways he explored his character’s torments and motivations were so intriguing to watch. In the quiet scenes, it’s not Jang Hyuk thinking about DaeGil’s problems, but you really believe it’s DaeGil thinking about DaeGil’s problems. He’s not always pretty to watch (sometimes spittle and hemoglobin do violent chemical things in this show), but one thing’s for sure, it was never boring. Action adventures are so much the more thrilling when good acting is involved, don’t y’all think? I love it when we get the whole package entertainment—emotional investment as well as the instantly gratifying fun of fight scenes and flying high-kicks.

Kim HaEun – now right here was a true acting marvel! This little wench (that’s what she was oft referred to in Chuno) played a worldly ingénue in a charlatan dancing troupe. The contradiction in such a character and the manner in which Kim HaEun delivered her lines were both believable and poignant. After only a few scenes, she became my favorite character. I even wondered if Lee DaHae suffered the abundance of negative feedback for her portrayal as EunYeon because she was being compared to such a natural talent as Kim HaEun. She was definitely not just cast for her pretty face. She hijacked every scene she was in and had an amazing talent to convey multiple layers of emotions with one gaze or gesture. I think her character really helped us connect to the period, this era in Korean history when the role of women were little more than slaves as well. And when she sang, ah, it was both lovely and sad. There is something about characters that tell their story or their pain through song—the ability and power of music to instantly resonate. The ability to rip your heart out and tear it to little pieces.

Also, as pleasurable as it was to watch Jang Hyuk onscreen by himself, it was more delightful to watch the interplay between Jang Hyuk and Kim HaEun when they were together. Their characters were such polar opposites that their scenes practically sparked like two chips of flint being scraped together. MORE, please! Here’s a Jang Hyuk and Kim HaEun photospasm where she is cajoling a ride out of him:

Notable mentions: Kim JiSuk adorably played goofy and gangly playboy WangSon/왕손이 (also funny to note that his name sounded like the Korean word for monkey/원숭이) and Han JungSoo excellently embodied the stalwart General Choi. These two gentlemen ruffians were also wonderful as fellow slave hunters that worked beside leader Jang Hyuk. Can I overuse the word ‘wonderful’ much? Not in this review.

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! Just one more: wonderful!

The four I’ve mentioned here created the heart of this drama.

after the first episode
Sweeping. Lush. Sexy. Funny. Smart. Well endowed—very well endowed (oh the men!)—with a compelling story and complex characters. I was a bit disconcerted at first at how good it was, completely taken off guard. Naturally, I expected to see the buff men in scanty clothing running around and being all macho…I didn’t expect them to be able to act. I knew there would be beautiful scenery and grand fight scenes, I didn’t expect those fight scenes to be beautifully filmed as well as actually convey sentiment.

Overall, the biggest revelation for me would have to be Jang Hyuk. I didn’t expect him to command his role so completely, as I am not really familiar with any of his previous works. He was hardcore to the max as the nonchalant and insolent slave hunter. He hit all the right notes. He was thrilling to watch in his grand fighting scenes (probably because he’s a martial arts expert in real life as well) but subtle with his emotions so that the human center of his character didn’t get lost in the sneering and the posturing. I totally fell in love. Complex characters can be so engaging to watch as we learn more about them in bits and pieces, truly like a new relationship starting and unfolding. It’s a wonderful feeling to realize the character you thought you knew in episode 1 is not at all the character revealed in Episode 7, and then later in Episode 15, and so forth. The point is growth. The deeper we travelled with him, the more interesting he became, and it was in part the writing, of course, but also very much owing to the ability of Jang Hyuk to pull it off.

Despite the seriousness, it was surprising how very comedic Chuno was as well, but unlike others that have failed, Chuno was able to show its humor in a way that didn’t shame itself.

There was one glaring weakness: Lee DaHae. I just don’t know about her in this role. I hoped for the best but I had a feeling I wasn’t going to be satisfied by her performance.

gave up

snoozer moments
My breath was held the whole way through (well, for the most part; more on that later). There was so much going on. Never a moment was I truly bored...ok, that’s not the complete truth. The drama started as an epic love story filled with love and revenge but toward the end (episodes 20+) it lost its way a little and swayed its focus completely toward the convoluted and onerous political doings...when 90% of the story moved away from my favorite four characters, Jang Hyuk (DaeGil), Kim JiSuk (WangSon) and Han JungSoo (General Choi) and Kim HaEun (SeolHwa), I’ll be honest, it lost some of its edge-of-your-seat thrill and shine. Politics are politics, a necessary evil in the world, yes, but tend to be as exciting as watching paint dry.

But overall, I dreaded knowing it would eventually have to end. Twenty-four episodes never felt so short.

And I have to add, I have never been so relieved and happy as I was in Episode 17. You’ll see. The writers are so mean (but brilliant)! 

Oh, yeah, there was a whole lotta misery everywhere and in everyone. Fate and l’amour are cruel tormentors. I would drink myself into a coma too if I lived even a fraction of what these people endured every day.

what didn’t work
Lee DaHae

what did
Kim HaEun blossoms brightly to mind. And of course, Jang Hyuk.

what made me want to gouge my eyes out
The opposite actually, nothing made me want to tear out my hair (Lee DaHae and the conclusion notwithstanding). One of the things that can bug me in the new hip dramas or thrillers is the [often] awful and distracting manner in which clever camera tricks are used to build suspense, including the excessive use of slow motion. Those usually have me rolling my eyes to the ends of the earth. Not in Chuno! I loved every glorious camera gimmick and slow-mo swivel, because it was used to further the story and build movement, and not merely for the sake of self-glorification. Ok, maybe a little a lot of self-glorification, but I still loved it. In the end, I was happy that Chuno didn’t feel like it was pandering to an idiot, trying to trick me with fancy acrobatics of light and lens to distract me from a weak story. No, the special effects, the twirling shots, and the slow-mo were all welcomed because it was set with a well-woven tale, not instead of! It’s amazing what well-written characters and great directing can accomplish!

what kept me going

I was completely hooked after the first two episodes, in that I appreciated that this would be a good story and a well-made drama, but halfway through, I didn’t just appreciate it, I sort of fell in love.

Other factors:
predictability No. I had no idea where this drama was heading…who would live, die, or rue the day. I hoped more would live happily ever after than meet their demise…I was nervous all the way.
engrish No, but like any sageuk, the language can be difficult and if you were watching it subbed in English, I imagine some of the quirkier colloquialisms may be missed. Especially if you were watching the show with KBS subs, which aimed for the simplest summary of what was said rather than allegiance to the exact words. This can be both beneficial, as it gets to the heart of the matter, but sometimes misses the fun as it misses the quirks. Example 1: In a scene where Kim HaEun starts to play music while they’re camping out in the wild, Jang Hyuk snaps, “You’ll have all the snakes rushing here!” The KBS subs, however, simply read: “What are you doing?” You get the point, you lose some of the detail...not critical in this case, but you have to wonder why it was not just translated true to their actual words for such a minor thing. Example 2: In this drama, the phrase “sleeping together/having sex” is often used, but is adapted from the more colorful expression that directly translates from “rubbing bellybuttons.” You can see why the translation was absolutely accurate but the latter was much more amusing. It doesn’t take away from the story, but worth noting. 
originality Yes, it felt so fresh and so clean. I wish more dramas were like this one, so well done in every nook and cranny. When the acting, directing and story come together like long lost lovers, as it did here, it is nothing but original as it happens so rarely.
eye-candy I wished I had more eyes to soak up all the candy faster!
hair and fashion Oh, major applauds to the costuming coordinators. I loved all the ab-showing rags the boys ran around in…until it got too cold to be bare-chested. Damn the winter!

is it worth trying to find?
Abso-freakin’-deakin’-lutely. Watch at least 5 episodes and you will love it, too. If you don’t, I just don’t know about you! I’m kidding.

total enjoyment factor 
7/10 - This is where I contradict my glowing review a little:

-1 pt for Lee DaHae’s wimping acting
-2 pts for Chuno’s oh-so-typical and graceless exit

A friend of mine who watched this drama with me said she’d probably give it an even lower score if this were her blog (a brutal 6) even though she did like the drama. According to her, the story deserves a point loss and Lee DaHae deserves a deduction of two points but Oh JiHo deserves a point deduction as well. I personally adore Oh JiHo, but as the drama furthered along, I could definitely see her point (excuse the pun). There was something rather flat about Oh JiHo’s General Song TaeHa after a while. The character definitely wasn’t one of the stronger depictions within the show.

All the positives aside, the last third of the drama really let me down. It may really deserve the 6.

total disdain factor

why this review is completely biased
I love Sam Cham. — Wait, I’m not having a mind fart, it’ll make sense in a moment.

This drama reminded me of two things I love dearly…two things that may seem completely unrelated and random but in my head found a sort of marriage.

First, it reminded me of one of my favorite books of all time, historical fantasy Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay, an epic [b]romance between two warriors (one also being a rogue general) and the woman they both wanted, a female doctor, all set in a land inspired by medieval Spain. The story wasn’t about slavery, but it was about wretched people living in a territory riven by wars and politics, like Chuno, and two men and one woman who find their lives fated to collide. It’s hard to completely explain why I’ve linked the two, as the stories bear no definitive similarities, but there was a same-ness about the two works. I was overcome with a similar feeling of excitement and romance and sense of unexpected adventure and machismo when I watched Chuno that I had felt reading Lions.

The other thing Chuno called to memory was…Samurai Champloo, the Shinichiro Watanabe work of anime genius about a disgraced ronin (masterless samurai) and a reckless street-fighting vagrant, two aimless men who wanted nothing more than to match skills of the sword and kill one another but instead found themselves on an allied journey to help a young girl find “the samurai who smells of sunflowers.” For people familiar with Champloo, you may be squinting your face in confusion right about now and wondering what I’ve been smoking…I can’t blame you. But Jang Hyuk totally reminded me of Mugen (reckless street-fighting vagrant)…and if ever Mugen should be brought into live-action form, I’m pretty sure he would not be unlike Jang Hyuk’s portrayal of Lee DaeGil.

Lee DaeGil = Mugen (crazy vagrant)

Fuu = SeolHwa (spunky moppet)

Kim HaEun was totally channeling some Fuu with her bossy and positive personality that kept her boys in check. Not to mention the voracious appetite for such a tiny lady!

But I digress. Truth is, I probably loved Chuno even more because at times it felt like I was watching my Sam Cham characters come to life. Jang Hyuk and Oh JiHo’s fighting…Jang Hyuk and Kim HaEun’s bickering…and without a doubt, Jang Hyuk’s smirky sneer would have made Mugen proud.

could a non-kdrama fan like this

A lot people had trouble with Lee DaHae in this drama, from her acting to her “clean” presentation, those flawless looks even present when she had no access to the amenities that would keep her so fresh and so dewy (and always bathed in soft light). Do I think the critics were overly harsh on her? Yes—to a point. Other females, including the lovable SeolHwa played by Kim HaEun, managed to stay neat and tidy while on the rough roads as well…but see, I don’t think being “clean” was the real point of their criticism, just a side effect. It was just one aspect people fixated on because it was easiest to reference but it wasn’t the point, it was a part of a greater issue. I do believe, like others, that Lee DaHae was the weakest link in Chuno and if not completely deserving of all the harsh criticisms, not innocent of it either.

I think a lot of the negativity directed at her had less to do with her being clean specifically but her lackluster portrayal of EunYeon. As the central female character (and the one with the most air time) she was quite a transparent and ‘cosmetic’ character. By cosmetic character, not only was she always ‘pretty,’ but her portrayal lacked any real development and felt very skin deep when a character such as hers would have had plenty to work with in terms of emotional baggage. Lee DaHae’s expressions of grief and hardship were more “Oh, I feel pain – ow” and less subtle, which after a while became annoying to watch and somewhat unsympathetic. The actress spoke words of strength…but in a voice filled with weakness. Was the failure in the actress or the written character? When pushed to decisive action, her body language was defeated, not steady. Again, who was at fault? Was this a case of poor acting or poor directing or a poorly written female character? In the end, judging by the subtlety and complexities of all the other characters and the magnificent manner in which DaeGil, SeolHwa and many others were brought to life, I’d have to say the weakness was not be in the writing or the directing…so that left Lee DaHae, the actress. She was a continual miss throughout the drama.

It does make one wonder, however, exactly how different this character might have been had Han HyoJoo not declined the part...

Last but not least, another strength of Chuno was the ensemble of great characters, from prominent supporting roles like the villainous general who betrayed Song Taeha, to DaeGil’s partners in crime gorgeous General Choi and Wangsoon, to the secret society of revolting-gun-toting slaves, and then all the way down to the smaller parts like the tavern ladies in love with General Choi, or the vulgar monk trying to find nirvana. We also had old sku idol group g.o.d. and current captain of KBS relay variety show Dream Team 2 Danny Ahn who had a fun cameo and did pretty well (who is actually so very handsome in real life, although not particularly in this drama). Spoiler alert, highlight text between the arrows if you want to read: —{ As an example, throughout the show, there was a question of Danny Ahn’s feelings for Lee DaHae…it was implied that he was also in love with her. Well, when he was a guest on Happy Together (talk show), he said something interesting. Apparently, his lovelorn gazes were not actually in the script but the director instructed him to do the googly glances anyway otherwise “it’ll be boring.” SO TRUE. It was those kinds of throwaway minutiae littered throughout Chuno that really made the show. The story itself was simple enough, but there were so many smaller matters happening at any given time that kept the story and the characters so real and engaging and mysterious. }— All-around great acting and great directing.

NOW for the ending...(MAJOR spoiler alert, DO NOT READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW HOW IT ALL PLAYED OUT; you’ve been forewarned): —{ I was weeping like a broken faucet. I’ll be honest, personally speaking, I hated the ending! From a purely fan perspective, Chuno left me uttery depressed and unsatisfied. Everyone I wished would die a horrible death survived and frankly, that just sucked! I don’t know what was more sad to see, the expected-but-I-really-really-hoped-it-wouldn’t-happen conclusion, or SeolHwa crying in devastation, or the girl on the sofa at home crying (ME curled into a weeping ball). Both of us crying our hearts out because we fell in love with the same man...and he went away! Why!? Why!? Where did it all go so tragically wrong? How did the ending go from Sam Cham to Bebop? To be completely serious, the entire ending was delivered in a way that rendered it meaningless...I got the symbolism, all the men who wanted to change the world gave their lives to bring a new day, blah-di-blah, yes, yes, they were willing to make that ultimate sacrifice...but it felt rushed and not consistent with the pace and manner of how the show had unfolded up until the final four episodes. In this unique case, this drama needed to actually be extended at the very least a minimum of two more hours. They needed more time to wrap up their loose ends more comprehensively. What made this show special were the characters, not the abolition of slavery storyline, so I felt it was a bit of cheat to end it the way they did, too easy, too simple, too boring. I was very disappointed they chose to travel the frequently done route where the tortured protagonist simply died at the end to make the world a better place. It wasn’t so much that Jang Hyuk died, but the manner in which it happened that was clunky. Ugh, when it started to CG-snow...I just knew it! My stomach sank. Waaaaa! Waaaa! I knew it right away they were going to go for that [predictable] heroic end punch. }—I’ll tell you something everyone already knows, period pieces can really wring all the water out of you like a wet towel right before it’s hung to dry. They never end well.

My final words for Chuno are of the positives: Chuno was willing to dare it all…with messy characters both lovable and detestable and a storyline dangerous to the comfort of one’s health. Regardless of my feelings on its conclusion and my belief that after episode 20 the drama lost some of what made it special in the first place, I still think this is an absolute must-watch…at the very least must-try. Who knows, this may convert you to saeguks. It has certainly opened my heart to loving them a little more than I did before.

(Wow, this is a way too long review!)
Anyway, farewell my DaeGil. Ill miss you.


  1. hallo there!! I started watching the first 10 minutes of chuno, dropped it... and restarted it and fell in love with it! ok, maybe that's an exaggeration because I still felt that it sometimes lacked a little something.. (i know that's vague). lol. lee dae hee's perf wasnt stellar but i feel it didnt deserve all the hate. oh ji ho was ok i guess but who cares since hes hot. lol.. but like you, I LOVED kim ha eun... she was brilliant! so was jang hyuk! which surprised me because I hated his drama bright girl! like actually hated it so badly i still remember the pain from watching it after years. although tazza was not bad. my 1st impression was that the drama was breathtakingly beautiful. however, cuz i was depressed and wanted smth to cheer me up, i stopped watching at 20 thinking i would go back later while swithching to a more funny drama. but now that ive read your spoilers (i know im bad but everytime i really cant help it and then hate myself for my weakness), i feel like im going to delay watching the last 4 ep for a long while. lol. how can they freaking kill jang hyuk? i still think from the 20 ep ive watched that chuno is one of the most memorable sageuk ive watched.. not my favorite but still excellent. btw, watched the woman who still wants to marry after listening to ur advice and im glad i did! it was a great drama. there was moments that were just so so but the chemistry between shin young and min jae is so much greater than i expected! anyways, thx to you i got to watch a great drama. *goes hunting for a new one*

  2. lol.. i always end up forgetting smth. anyways, since you dont know much of jang hyuk, i guess you can watch tazza (which is not bad at all) or thank you (which has a nice following of fervent fans) or even bright girl (which i detested for its nonsense but it had high ratings so who knows.. lol) although personally, i think jang hyuk is most impressive in chuno so you might not find him as good in other dramas. ok, now i need to find my own drama to watch. its funny how with hundreds of dramas out there, i still cant find one to watch. lol

  3. Haha! I can’t blame you for stopping at Ep 20, Chuno definitely had an identity shift around that time. It went from being one type of drama to a completely different one. And yay yay yay, I’m so glad you ended up enjoying Woman Who Still Wants to Marry! I really loved MinJae and ShinYoung, too.

    Actually, funny you bring it up, I've already started to sift through Jang Hyuk’s filmography and drama-ography…I tried to watch Bright Girl a few weeks ago, but you’re right, it looks horrible! I couldn’t get past the first episode. Right now I’ve started Tazza and so far, I’m kinda liking it. We’ll see how it goes, I’m still in the early stages. I’ll have to check out Thank You afterwards for sure now that you’ve mentioned it, thanks! Have you watched Pasta? I didn’t particularly care for the first episode, but I thought Alex of Clazziquai looked quite the handsome, and I’m considering giving it a second try. Pass on any drama recommendations if you find a gem!

  4. hey, yea i know right? bright girl was definitely bad.. im glad that you actually agree with me.. it used to be really popular but I guess I dont follow the trend. not that i dont like jang nara.. i actually liked her when the drama's right. say my love patzi. actually, ur lucky you stopped at ep 1. i finished it and towards the end, it becomes simply cringeworthy laughable. a complete joke. like making cosmetics that you can eat??!! actually, for thank you, it was actually good until past the middle and then it went down so i guess if you have time you can check it out and see. also, if you want another jang hyuk/lee dae hee pairing, i guess you can try robbers. not in a mile the best drama out there in my opinion but i guess if you want to relive the pairing... um, i havent finished pasta, only halfway.. it's not bad, actually quite decent from what i've seen but i guess as a food drama, gourmet is better. but yea, alex is charming (i knew him from we got married. lol.) ever watched bad family? it's quite heartwarming and hilarious once you force yourself through the first 2 ep. i missed it until recently because of the apparently lack of romance and more of family but i was surprised as there was romance. it's a cute drama i guess but a comedy. do you have a genre you want to try? see you next post. i couldnt decide what dramas to watch after browsing through so many dramas' summary, MVs... so im giving up and deciding to rewatch family honor for the time being... lol and i guess finishing pasta.

  5. Thanks for the recommendations! Though to be honest, I'm not sure I'm up for another Lee DaHae drama quite yet (re: Robbers) even if it is with Jang Hyuk... ^^ Saw some of Bad Family (Nam SangMi=cute!) and I, too, am probably going to revisit and finish Pasta...though I have a LONG list of dramas and too little time so it may take a while to get a review up for it! Heh. Why do human beings have to sleep? ;)

  6. omg I'm so glad you brought up the Samurai Champloo similarity. I loved that anime more than any other, and I'm hoping Chuno will bring me satisfaction too.

  7. glacierkn, me too! Sam Cham is prob at the top of my anime list, right next to Cowboy Bebop. =)

  8. I watched chuno, got to around episode 8 and I was still not really feeling the story. I guess i was really rooting for the Eonyeon/daegil story but it became obvious that it would never happen? I like sageuk-themed dramas but it got messy when it just became a sad tale about DG's life T.T I really love janghyuk because of this drama though, he was amazing! I skipped to the end and cried when he died :( I know a lot of people criticize Lee Da Hae. She's not the best actress ever but she's not bad, I find that the actors that get most criticized are the ones that have to portray the quiet but cool characters. Often times we mix up bad acting with bad character. I think half of it was Lee Da Hae's fault, but the other half was mainly her character, as Eonyeon was always kind of quiet and all, and you can't say that LDH's crying scenes were bad because they really weren't. It's not like she's gonna bawl onto the floor rolling around and weeping, because that's not her character. So yeah..I'm not a LDH fan but I didn't find it fair that she was getting the most criticism when someone like Kim Ha Eun had a much easier role to play, as most people find that playing a comical and non-serious character is much easier than a elegant and submissive lady..

  9. @anonymous how can you noy feel the story? Then what is the use of skipping to the end episode? The story is simple but the way each and every character represented and acted is marvelous.Getting to know this Dae Gil character with each episode it's like getting know something new about him. The way Dae Gil character written , directed and acted by Jang Hyuk.. it will drown you and you will start feeling his pain and his yearning for Ennyona... I was wondering how this man can show his emotions so naturally even if upto 12th episode he is not sharing the screen with the female lead(not considering flashback)... there is a scene which real meaning I understand after a few episodes: initially there was a fight with Chon Jo hi(another gang of slave hunter) and Dae Gil.. I was thinking the fight was because he fooled Dae Gil and they are rivals.. but the anger in Dae gil's eyes and unexpected horror in Chon Jo hi when Dae Gil was about to kill him ,said there is more meaning to this scene... Latter I understood Dae Gil cared a lot for CJH , how ever miss information about Ennyona made him crazy to the point he was about to kill his dear Eonni..the same concept goes for Jjkyora Eonni ,why he lost his one ear...it represents his pain and love for Ennyona when Dae Gil loses his mind and get frozen when it is something related to Ennyona...and I am thankful to Seolhwa for being there with Dae Gil in his sad moments and you deserve the Dae gil's last moment... We can understand the pain you feel as your hear is beating for Dae Gil.. Even though there was no place for anyone else in his heart he did care for you a lot...you are furtunate to be able to meet a man like Dae Gil in your life and shared some beautiful time.. for me the ending is perfect


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