Perhaps we expected too much from the Hong Sisters. It had a good storyline to work with and decent cast members but there were far too many filler scenes at the end with the ending somewhat anti-climatic to say the least.
Based on a fictional book about a Korean Robin Hood, Hong Gil Dong, this drama is very loosely based off that book and the time it was set in.
Compared to dramas in the same timeslot, we had great expectations for “Hong Gil Dong” considering that the Hong Sisters were writing this, excellent cast, good storyline to work off, etc. But nearing it’s end, to those who expected the usual comedic stuff from Hong Sisters, our expectations just got dumbed down.
Around the middle, it just got stuck with meaningless plots and things just progressed at a snail pace. I think it was when Hwal Bin Dang started fighting with Chang Hwi against the King. It detoriated when Yi Nok’s step grandfather and Gil Dong’s father died. The plot just got too serious for my liking and despite some infusion of funny scenes, it never worked like what it did in the beginning.
Compared to Hong Sisters previous works, “Hong Gil Dong” paled in comparison failing to create enough laughs, etc. Something was just lacking. From watching every minute in the beginning, I was already fast-forwarding the episodes at the end. Despite how popular Kang Ji Hwan, Sung Yuri, Jang Geun Seuk, etc were, it didn’t help in the ratings department. Although we can’t base on how good a drama is using ratings, but with the ratings remaining average throughout, it’s evident that the drama wasn’t as good as it should have been.
It only managed to get No.1 for one week while coming second fiddle to “New Heart” and then “On Air” in the ratings.
Despite being a period drama, it managed to draw out many societal problems plaguing Korea today. For example the FTA agreement between Korea and the US, corruption in big corporations, military conscription, foreign language education, etc. Normally in period dramas, you will find the characters speaking ancient Korean language, but in “Hong Gil Dong”, you hear them using popular slang words used today in Korea. Even foreign language like, “I Love You” is used frequently between Yi Nok and Gil Dong. Then not to forget the techno music and sunglasses as props giving it a timely feeling to those watching it.
Perhaps if it wasn’t 24 episodes and edited to just 16, 18, 20 episodes, the pacing of the drama might have been better and funnier.
Kang Ji Hwan as Hong Gil Dong
Undoubtedly the star of the drama once again. While not as good as his character in Capital Scandal, he still owns totally in Hong Gil Dong with his facial expressions and emotions. Is there anything he can’t do? He just lights up the screen everytime he comes on. From a ruffian in the streets, he grows unwillingly into leading Hwal Bin Dang in the end to fight for a world where everyone lives in equality. From caring only about himself, he grows into a leader who fights for the people. Love his relationship with his teacher, the storekeeper, the two girls at the brothel, the Hwal Bin Dang gang, his father and of course his bittersweet relationship with Yi Nok.
From a aimless ruffian into someone with noble ideals.
Sung Yuri as Heo Yi Nok/Yoo Yi Nok
Sung Yuri gives a far better account and possibly her best performance compared to her previous roles. Her Heo Yi Nok character which is a happy-go-lucky, most of the times blur, etc no doubt helped her. Her memorable scenes including her crying for Gil Dong after learning about his “death”.
But the most chilling of them all must be the one where her “grandfather” dies and then learning about her tragic family history. She changes totally into a cold-blooded killer with blood-shot eyes holding a sword as she becomes like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, seeking revenge on Gil Dong’s father who devastated her family. Just as she’s going to avenge her family, Gil Dong blocks her attempt and is stabbed instead, bringing her to her senses.
Jang Geun Suk as Lee Chang Hwui
Didn’t really liked his character and it became more evidently so when he became king. Was kind of awkward in the beginning but gradually grew into his role in the middle. But it looked weird again when he became the king as he lacked the authority. His character is like the whole world owns him something but actually he is a victim of cirumstances. Even when he finally realise it in the end, he decides to make the position permanently his. Always in constant conflict with Gil Dong over ideals and Yi Nok. The ending sees him becoming the victor but at what cost? Losing your comrade, your loved one?
Hwal Bin Dang
Jung Mal Nyeo (Cha Hyun Jung), Shim Soo Geun (Park Sang Wook), Hal Meom (Byun Shin Ho), Kom Yi (Maeng Se Chang) were the main members of Hwal Bin Dang. Originally just bandits without a common goal, under Hong Gil Dong, they became a united group that robbed the rich to feed the poor.
I liked how each of them had their own characteristics. Mal Nyeo was the cool sexy warrior girl, Soo Geun always wanting to go steady with Mal Nyeo but getting rejected because he had only one ball left (But they eventually got together at the very end). Hal Meom had a fetish for weapons while Kom Yi would go crazy at random moments. They only expanded on Soo Geun’s storyline (which was about 2 episodes) while touching on a fair bit with Kom Yi, but Mal Nyeo and Hal Meon were hardly touched upon which was disappointing.
All in all, it was fun time whenever they came on.
Kim Ri Na as Seo Eun Hye
She played the girl of the Minister who craved for power and had a liking for Hong Gil Dong after getting charmed by him at the brothel. From being head over heels over Gil Dong in the beginning, she slowly turned into a jealous woman after knowing about him and Yi Nok’s relationship. She indirectly caused the downfall of Hong Gil Dong at the end but redeems herself by spreading the tale of Hong Gil Dong which is still known till today. Credible acting.
Ahn Suk Hwan as Seo Yoon Sup / Minister Seo (Eun Hye’s father)
Another funny character who does nothing much and always talks about being the center of power in court. Normally is a couple with the lady below but is kept apart by the Hong Sisters for this drama. Always the last to know anything.
Choi Ran as Court Lady Noh / Noh Sang Koong
Was like a “mother” to Chang Hwui who only wanted him to succeed. Always there to act as a check against Chang Hwui. It’s weird to see her playing such a serious role to this since normally she is the one providing comedic relief in Hong Sisters previous dramas, but she did a good job here. Chang Hwui’s two bodyguards also did a good job although in the end they couldn’t be with Hwal Bin Dang which was what they desired but chose to remain loyal.
Yi Nok’s grandfather and Gil Dong’s teacher
They provided the comic relief and love their squabbles with each other.
Another comic relief outlet and his scenes were hilarious especially when Gil Dong is added to the mix. Always loves to speak Chinese and pretends to be one so that he can sell his products better although it’s really just nonsense. Gil Dong’s gadgets like sunglasses, telescope, etc comes from him including information. Indirectly spreads the tale of Hong Gil Dong around to the people.
Pretty Kisaeng Girl
Forgot her name in the drama but her real name is Park Jin Ah. Appears more prominently at the beginning when Hong Gil Dong second home was at the brothel and towards the middle. She was very pretty and my eyes just focused on her when she comes on.
Other memorable characters include Gil Dong’s father and the crazy King.
Due to laziness, I can only say so much about scenes that are vivid in my mind. Most of them took place in the earlier part of the drama.
Okay Kimchi: To rate this, you can just use Goong as a template. Started well and was really promising with it’s characters and storyline. But it faded towards the end with stale and boring melodramatic scenes. The ending leaves one scratching their heads. An underwhelming production. Kang Ji Hwan was on top of his game while Sung Yuri improved tremendously. Overall good production with lush bright scenes mostly. 3.5/5 stars.
Although the ending doesn’t fit what the first episode show, but it tells us that Hong Gil Dong might be dead, but no matter what, the spirit of Hong Gil Dong will live on forever and ever. There will always be one that challenges the system whether you like it or not. At least Gil Dong knows “I Love U” meaning.
Many thanks to all the folks at Soompi forums for the updated information.