How often do we get to see Yoo Seung Ho as a cheeky character? Hardly, which is why I was totally looking forward to this movie, where Yoo plays the titular character Kim Seon Dal, a folk hero not unlike Hong Gil Dong. Kim Seon Dal is a swindler who targets the rich and powerful, and in a scene in the movie, he also distributes the wealth he had gotten to others (albeit that happened when he was moving from a gibang to another, and there was a throng of gisaengs following him, LOL).
The movie begins with In-hong (Kim Seon Dal’s original name) struggling to stay alive on a battlefield, and he meets with ahjusshi Bong-won (Go Chang Seok) and a scaredy youngster Gyeon-yi (EXO’s Xiumin). They cheat death by pretending to be dead, which Bong-won claims that he escaped death for the thirteenth time by pretending to be dead. We’re subsequently told thousands of Joseon commoners were captured and sent to Qing China as hostages, and the people were forced to fight for the Qing monarchy. Sung Dae-ryeon (Jo Jae Hyun) is the evil Joseon envoy to Qing China, responsible for the abductions of his own people, and he is our main villain in this movie.
Fast-forward to a few years later, In-hong and Bong-won become the most successful yet elusive swindler pair who goes around Joseon cheating the rich of their gold and possessions. Their “debut” act was that of passing off a hen as a phoenix, and their acts get increasingly creative and they always change their disguises, making them practically impossible to catch. The infamous pair pose as a big headache to our resident detective Lee Wan (Jeon Seok-ho), who had drawings of In-hong and Bong-won in all their disguises (yes, including that of In-hong posing as a girl.
In-hong and Bong-won operates with some help from Gyeon-yi and Bodhittsava Yoon (Ra Mi Ran), the latter is actually a crack fortune-teller and love interest of Bong-won. In-hong was reluctant to let Gyeon-yi join in the swindling acts, but Gyeon-yi idolizes In-hong so much that he managed to fool the gang, proving that he too, can be a swindler. In-hong honors his promise and agrees to Gyeon-yi being part of the gang officially. However, In-hong is still reluctant to let Gyeon-yi carry out the more dangerous acts and even considered to let Gyeon-yi go back to his hometown, as In-hong knows that the life of a swindler is unstable and life-threatening.
Indeed, In-hong’s fear came true one day, as his latest plan with Bong-won was foiled and resulted in a tragedy. Recognizing Sung Dae-ryeon as his biggest enemy, In-hong came up with a foolproof plan for his biggest swindle ever – to sell a river. This is where the story really starts, as In-hong carefully manipulates Dae-ryeon into his web of deceit, carefully making use of Dae-ryeon’s immense greed and traps him in an offer that he can’t refuse. Not only did In-hong manage to succeed in this impossible scam, he also found love from saving a girl (Seo Ye-ji) held hostage by Dae-ryeon as an offering to a Qing Prince. Most importantly, In-hong helped King Hyojong (Yeon Woo-jin) get rid of the court’s most corrupted minister.
This movie is entertaining from the beginning to end, with carefully thought out plot developments such that although the scams were outrageous, but were in no way ridiculous or full of holes to poke at. It’s kind of like Unit 38 set in Joseon, with a small gang of swindlers scamming their way through the rich, but easier to understand and more hilarious. A totally enjoyable 2 hours!