Drama Review – Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People (MBC, 2017)

I have to say Show is undoubtedly one of my favorites for this first half of 2017, although I have to admit it’s not perfect and the penultimate episode was just so uninteresting and weirdly paced, especially after all that big battle right before it. Nevertheless, Show was definitely engaging and the Hong clan is one of the most interesting ensemble cast in recent Kdrama history.

I guess it’s agreeable that Kim Sang-joong is the soul of Show in the first half, and no other characters can really fill his place in his absence. His character Amogae while unscrupulous, is relatable and easy to root for especially for modern day viewers who’re well exposed to the idea of human rights. While I do not agree with some of those Confucian ideas that were obviously twisted in favor of the yangbans (they’re obviously not meant to be that way when Confucius came up with these ideals), I can understand in that context why Amogae is thought of as a “tumor” to the society. It gives his fight against the society more oomph to watch, as he is coming from the perspective of a father who wanted to give his family a better shot at life.

In contrast, Gil-dong (Yoon Kyun Sang) is less relatable and I don’t think it’s the actor who failed to deliver the character. There’s something missing in the development of the character which causes a disconnection between the viewer and Gil-dong. Till the end his inhuman strength doesn’t really seem to contribute in Gil-dong’s development as a people’s hero, and the growth of Gil-dong from avenging the death of Amogae to becoming a hero who liberated the people from crazy King Yeonsangun (Kim Ji-seok) somehow felt jarring.

Oddly, the other characters have more interesting arcs and character growth, and I really like the alternative perspective that Show came up with for Yeonsangun. His cruelty and unhinged behaviors were presented as it is, but the writer attempted to explain why he became as such and it personifies the historical character whom we usually think is one-dimensionally sadistic. Similarly, Jang Nok-soo (Lee Honey) is no longer the evil temptress as recorded in history but a woman with a sad life who tries her best to survive in the harsh world.

I have to admit I find the Gli-dong’s siblings Gil-hyun (Shim Hee-seob) and Eorini (Lee Soo-min) more interesting as the characters are exposed to a world outside of what they knew of and also away from the Hong clan, giving them more depth and also made their return to their family more memorable. It was a wee bit irritating to have the guess-who-is-Eorini game throughout a good portion of Show and frankly speaking it wasn’t crucial to the plot at all. I did however like that Eorini wasn’t the doe-eyed Ok Ran and she’s still as fiesty as she was before she was brainwashed by Scholar Song and cronies.

There were quite a bit of fanservice (by sageuk standards) for our OTP Gil-dong and Ga-ryung (Chae Soo-bin) and these scenes were those more light-hearted scenes (other than those with our Hong Clan ahjusshis) in Show. Ga-ryung is as lovely as she is gutsy and I can’t imagine anyone as Ga-ryung other than Chae Soo-bin. Her unwavering belief in Gil-dong is one of the biggest support that he could have, and the scenes of their untimely reunion were kind of heartbreaking (kind of because of course Show will not kill off Ga-ryung!).

While Show may not be perfect it is definitely engaging and it knows how to make the viewers ask for more. If only the writing was more tight and better paced, but I guess it’s too much to ask for a perfect sageuk? Coupled with a catchy OST, I like what we had – a reimagination of Hong Gil-dong and his people.

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