KDRAMAGUK : Korean Drama Soup

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


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hong Gil Dong (2008)

Hong Gil Dong
쾌도 홍길동
(Jan – Mar 2008)

who’s in it
Kang JiHwan (Be Strong, Geum Soon!, Movie – film)
Sung YuRi (One Fine Day, Prince’s First Love, former Fin.K.L member)
Jang GeunSuk (You’re Beautiful, Beethoven Virus)

what’s it about
Kang JiHwan plays Hong Gil Dong (a Robin Hood sort of fellow). Since the title of the drama is his name, we know he’s the man who’s gonna get the girl and win our support. He’s the bastard son of a noble dude in a completely classist society, so without a high and mighty name to brand him important, he’s pretty much a punk who isn’t worth knowing (according to the times). He lives an existence that is frivolous and drunken and carefree—or perhaps careless.

Sung YuRi is the street urchin that [eventually] falls for our dashing hero after initially being captivated by Jang GeunSuk, a young exiled prince who has returned to his homeland to wrestle away the throne from his [literally] insane half-bro. Before his mother sacrifices herself to save little princeling Jang GeunSuk, she tells him that he is the rightful heir to the kingship and must reclaim it when he gets big enough to kick big bro’s ass. Guess which angsty exiled prince has been thinking of nothing else since his dear mama burned to a crisp?

With the usurpers setting up camp in Kang JiHwan’s own backyard, our little Hong Gil Dong gets sucked into the political upheaval unfolding and the violent transgressions inflicted on his peeps—the common folk. And so he fights to change the world and to win peace for all mankind. Ok, I made the second part up, but he does want equality for all (but really, who doesn’t? That’s on my list of things to do, too!). This is how he becomes legend and as they say, the rest is history.

24 episodes


wildcard factor
Personally speaking, Jang GeunSuk stole the show for me as the exiled prince returning to claim his throne. He definitely set the standard for stoic, dark-haired assassin-ish type characters. Although I did think his character was a little limited as there was scarcely anything for the prince to do near the end but be all stoic and serious as he sat at the sidelines and waited for Hong Gil Dong to deliver the throne to him. Meh.

after the first episode

But seriously, who was this guy wearing the black get-up and sneer? I definitely took notice! He might just be worth watching…this prince guy played by Jang GeunSuk. I held hope that the whole show would improve with more plot mileage under its belt.

gave up

snoozer moments
Kang JiHwan’s Robin Hoodin’...
Sung YuRi’s crying and pining...
Jang GeunSuk’s glowering and dethroning

Oh wait, that’s everything!

Yeah, of course

what didn’t work
None of it really moved me, not when it was being silly, sad or serious.

what did
Unfortunately I thought there was a fundamental problem in the entire tone of Hong Gil Dong so while I did enjoy a few things here and there, I can’t think of anything I’d claim as particularly well done

what made me want to gouge my eyes out
To name just one thing, if I must keep it brief, I especially not really care for Kang JiHwan’s perma-wave. That hair did nothing for his handsome face.

what kept me going

Mild curiosity as to how this planned to wrap up.

Other factors:
predictability While the ending wasn’t completely a shock, it did still manage to surprise me a little.
engrish No
originality No
eye-candy No
hair and fashion Unoriginal, and uninteresting, and cheap looking

is it worth trying to find?

I didn’t like it but it’s possible you might. Loads of other kdrama fans did. *sniff* A LOT actually. Nothing wrong with that, but as much as they loved it, I disliked it equal much.

total disdain factor

total enjoyment factor 

The breakdown:

1pt = unpredictable ending

1pt = Jang GeunSuk

1pt = fan service for Hong Gil Dong fans; while I can’t/won’t change my opinion, I feel sad about the harsh review. I feel like I should have liked it...even I think it’s a bummer that I didn’t

1pt = freebie for Kang JiHwan, an actor who was brilliantly adorable in Be Strong, GeumSoon!. He gets a nod from me just for being so handsome and having been so awesome in GeumSoon.

-1pt = Sung YuRi—I’m sorry, I do not think this singer-turned-actress has got the thespian chops. She’s a cute and bubbly girl but she has not impressed  yet (Prince’s First Love, One Fine Day).

1pt = I know these two are good writers so I give screenwriters Hong MiRan and Hong JungEun the benefit of the doubt. I think there must have been some sort of a disconnect between the actual production and the script on the page…right?

why this review is completely biased
After the first episode, I knew I wasn’t going to like this and barring a miracle, my opinion was unlikely to change. Frankly, it’s all a blur. I don’t even know how I made it to the end...

Also, I totally do have a sometimes unfairly negative bias with historicals and I am ultra-critical with fusion saeguks in particular. I viciously scrutinize the acting and the storytelling. Being trendy is not an excuse to forsake the basics. Flashy faces will only distract for so long.

Hong Gil Dong is what it is...just a silly ride with some romantic glaring thrown in...and I am probably over-analyzing, but I can’t help myself!

could a non-kdrama fan like this

Hong Gil Dong is a good example of why I like these humor-based modernized historical dramas even less than the plain ol’ ones these days. Not only do I have to suffer the boring long-winded political yapping, but I have to suffer those boring parts without any payoff. In their effort to appeal to the masses and the most casual of viewers who prefer lighter dramas, these new hip saeguks get stripped of the depth and development that makes historical dramas what they are—marathons, not sprints (in quality as well as quantity).

Along with the amplified comedy comes the concern that there will be a ‘dumbing down’ of the story, the worry that it will be too much of a joke. The standard for a typical saeguk is to show lots of misery, corruption and provincialism. It was dreary and naked times back then. When watching these ‘updated’ historical shows, I start to wonder, why oh why must I endure the eschewing of tolerable character development and nuanced acting for the sake of cheap thrills? In Hong Gil Dong specifically, there was no flow in the directing style but worse, no brilliance in the acting to weigh it down and ground it into something real or credible. These [un]inspired interpretations take themselves too seriously to be just pure fluff but remain too immature to actually build multi-faceted characters. While watching Kang JiHwan twirl around in the early episodes, it was too obvious this was a precurser personality for later. Kang JiHwan never showed anything beyond what was obvious to all and that was ultimately uninteresting to watch.

Not that these new trendy historical dramas can’t work, but so far, the formula has not been perfected. They fail more often than succeed. When a show is too schizophrenic in tone, something is lost in the delivery, and the casualities are usually the characters.

For example, I thought Kang JiHwan’s portrayal of Hong Gil Dong was a parody of a person, not a depiction, as if he had been plucked out of a Gag Concert skit. Sung Yuri’s personality was equally shallow. By the time the story turned toward the meat of the plot, I had already turned my back on Kang JiHwan and Sung Yuri and their over the top performances. Similarly, as extravagant as Kang JiHwan and Sung Yuri’s portrayals of their characters were, Jang GeunSuk was too tightly restrained…so much so that this also became a liability for the drama. But the real competitor for the Xtreme Acting Olympics was Jo HeeBong who played the loony king who thought his little half-bro Jang GeunSuk was out to get him. I don’t know why that made him paranoid and crazy as it was true. There were moments that felt like his portrayal could have been mistaken for good acting, but those minutes were fleeting. His behavior was simply unnecessary surplus.

In fact, to sum up, that was Hong Gil Dong in a nutshell: unnecessary surplus.

The screenplay was written by two accomplished writers, a team consisting of two sisters…this did have a lot of their usual elements…and yet, I could hardly believe this was penned by such talented scriptwriters. Sheesh!

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