Korean Drama Review: Chuno


**This is another post that I’m re-publishing from my tumblr, and is the longest review I have written for any drama to date. Enjoy!**

For the spoiler-phobes who haven’t watched Chuno yet, I’ll try not to give away too many plot details. I can’t guarantee that I won’t reveal any, since after all, this is a review, and not a general synopsis you would find on the back cover of a book or DVD set. This is a my collection of thoughts about the drama as a whole, including some analyses of the main characters. Don’t be afraid to venture on, because you’ll be back in a jiffy! Okay, okay, okay. Maybe it will be a short stop but you’ll get back eventually, I promise! I’d also love to hear some feedback, and any other details that I might have missed!

Chuno, meaning “Slave Hunters” in Korean, centers around the era of King Injo’s reign in 1648. A couple years prior, Crown Prince Seo Hyun was captured and held captive in China. He was released eight years later. A month after his return, he suddenly died of food poisoning. His three sons were sent into exile while his wife was accused for her husband’s death. She was then forced into suicide through poisoning herself. The two eldest sons died of unknown illnesses, leaving the third son as the only survivor of a once prosperous family. It is during this time of slavery and political unrest, that Chuno takes a look at the life of three individuals: a slave hunter named Lee Dae Gil, who was once a political aristocrat himself, the general-turned-slave Song Tae Ha, and last but not least, Un Nyun, the woman who came in between both men. It also examines the lives of those with governmental power and those who have to submit their entire lives for the upper bureaucracy.

This blockbuster drama has everything going for it. It enters the K-drama scene in a grandiose fashion, stunning all its viewers. With a great cast ensemble, well-written music, beautiful cinematography, lots of action, and an original plot, Chuno intends for you to have a jaw dropping moment. There are plenty of hot actors and actresses, and it looks like it’s going to be a perfect ride. It seems like it has just set the standards for future sageuk dramas to come. What more could go wrong for such a highly made production? Plenty.

Here, I’ll give you a nice, albeit cheesy analogy. Chuno is like an expensive, scrumptious dish of filet mignon at a popular 5-star restaurant. This dish has been receiving consistent good reviews, so one day, you personally make a reservation to see what the hype is all about. Two days before you actually arrive at the restaurant, your friends call you up, just to gush and rave about how awesome the food was. So when the day finally comes, you are filled with high anticipation and excitement. Walking eagerly into the splendid doors of the ostentatiously decorated restaurant, every sense of your surrounding is concentrated on savoring this new experience. Before you know it, the moment you’ve been waiting weeks before has arrived — it is time to eat!

When the waitress puts that plate of mouthwatering goodness on your table, it looks like it’s been perfectly cut, perfectly seasoned, and perfectly plated. As you take your very first bite, you close your eyes because the heavenly taste is overwhelming. The first taste is everything you thought it would be — ideally piquant and tender. Yet as you help yourself to a couple more bites, the meat starts getting bland and tough. You instinctively gulp down mouthfuls of water to rid yourself of the horrid taste. What is happening here? Is this the same filet mignon that others have been raving about, or are you just at the wrong restaurant? Finally, after minutes of incredulity, you realize that it isn’t your problem at all. No, sirree! The cook has just fooled you into believing the filet mignon to be completely superior when, in reality, it wasn’t. Your friends who had raved about the restaurant’s special dish were either disillusioned themselves or they lost their taste buds, too enraptured with the initial outlook of the place to notice the flavorless taste. Thus, it doesn’t matter about the countless good reviews if you experience a delicious first bite and end up finishing a tasteless course!

Chuno was like that for me. It took my breath away with the first episode but gradually, I felt that there was something drastically missing from this drama. After much deliberation, I finally figured out what it was. This drama lacks emotion. Oh, don’t get me wrong — there are plenty of “emotional” scenes in this drama, but I couldn’t feel anything for the characters. There was a war and people were fighting for things that I could care less about, and for what reason? I really wanted to feel something more, but an emotional attachment on my part just couldn’t be forced. I therefore felt cheated and crushed. What an utterly bitter disappointment. It’s not that I had much expectations riding into Chuno; I just thought that, given the publicity before the drama aired, it would certainly “WOW” me.

I believe that Writer Chun Sung Il is largely at fault, since he was responsible for creating characters that should touch the audience. He’s not a bad writer, but I’d say that in Chuno, he focused much more on the development of the male characters rather than the women. Despite the few glimmers of heartwarming scenes, the majority of the drama remained emotionless as it was. This flaw could also be attributed to the director. The directing is vital in a production and it can drastically change the outcome of a production. Good direction can turn a flawed script into a monumental piece of work, and a rookie cast into adept actors. I guess you can say that because I’ve heard so much about Director Kwak Jung Hwan and his magnificent previous projects, I had high expectations that he could turn things around. I’m not saying that he didn’t; He just couldn’t save this drama all by himself. There’s definitely no doubt in my mind that without him, Chuno could have been much, much worse. The actors owe it to him for making them look so freakin’ gorgeous. It’s noticeable that the director took delicate care to display them in full majestic glory. He captures every detail of their body with flairs of elegance, but doesn’t forget to seize the natural beauty of the setting. He spoils the audience with his directing, so that the next time we see another sageuk drama, his cinematography will be the epitome to beat. I can’t say blame him too much for the lack of emotion here, since there’s absolutely nothing wrong with his direction; I just felt that it was too slick for me to love it, as it was used repeatedly.

On a complete side note, I think that the more I watch dramas, the pickier I become. Perhaps it’s not so much that I become more of a grouch but that I begin to distinguish between what is true beauty and what is just dirty laundry. You would think that I would ultimately just stop watching them altogether. On the contrary, I find that as I continue to watch my beloved dramas, the more desperate I am to search for that one gem above all others. It doesn’t matter if I have to sit through hours of crap if, by the end of the year, I am able to store away a couple of precious jewels for my collection. Furthermore, I’ve come to realize that there is one thing that won’t change for me as a drama watcher and it’s this: I can forgive a drama for all its flaws as long as it shows some heart. Perhaps what is most disappointing to me besides the writing is Chuno’s lack of a genuine heart. Hence, there was a lack of emotion in the first place.

Han Jung Soo as General Choi & Kim Ji Suk as Wang Son.

It also doesn’t help that, while you’re watching this, you get a vibe that Chuno wants all to bow down at its feet — which, although I’m sure many people are captivated by the drama, I know that I can just never become one of Chuno’s followers — but it tries excessively too hard to achieve that. Instead of focusing our attentions to the plot, it actually leads us away from the story itself. How can we give our undivided attention to a scene when the backdrop is so pretty? Try as we might, it’s not like we can be completely blind to it. Often times, I found myself ogling at the lush, natural landscape instead of paying attention to the important dialogues. I was lost in the glorious moment of being surrounded by breathtaking scenery, only to be reminded seconds later, through shrill shouts of fighting men and the clashing of swords, that I was still caught up in a storyline. Instead of having the luxury to enjoy and bask in the beautiful sunlight, I had to return to the bleak darkness of humanity. Oh, and let’s not forget that Chuno can be unintentionally hilarious at times, since the sometimes violent scenes directly conflict with the beautiful setting. Here we are, watching a gory blood fest — where friendships are easily broken and forgotten — while it was filmed under the blaring sunlight that shone across a land of pretty green and blue. Such a sanguine atmosphere that contrasts so vividly with the messy plot.

Can you blame me for getting tired of Chuno early on? The spectacular settings lost its touch when it was repetitively showcased in a slow-motion or super speedy fashion. The director uses special effects to intensify a moment, speeding up on the action at times, or slowing down to emphasize the impact. Again, it was great at first, but then it became really redundant. I can’t recall the number of times my fingers kept itching towards the fast-forward button or pause option because I was distracted with other things. I really couldn’t help it. Chuno seemed endless — fighting scenes looked to be similar shots of the previous episodes (they weren’t), and the plot kept centering itself on a cat-and-mouse-type of chase. (I know it’s because the story is based on the lives of slave hunters and whatnot, but c’mon, the chasing was never-ending!)

The number of A-list stars in Chuno was another example of its grand scheme to ensnare us into sweet oblivion of reality. Despite the hyped up cast, I felt that there were some that either over-acted or under-acted much of the time. This may have also contributed more to the lack of emotion I discussed above. Some were just used as eye-candy or comic reliefs, while others actually had big roles but didn’t live up to them. One of them was Oh Ji Ho. (Shown below.)

Ah, be still my heart.

He looks quite refreshing, doesn’t he? At least his hair is a bit disheveled and he’s not completely sparkling in the bright sunlight. His clothes are worn and falling apart, giving us a gratuitous revelation of muscular abs left out in the open! There’s also some smudges of dirt on his face, clearly demonstrating that this man is no pompous official, but a dignified slave.

Song Tae Ha is a man of few words and he isn’t prone to display his emotions in public. He’s much more guarded and vigilant of the world around him, but not purposely sly. Before he was forced into slavery, he was once a famed, accomplished general who worked for the government and one of the Crown Prince’s most trusted advisers. Knowing that only the third son of Seo Hyun lives and is in danger of being kidnapped by corrupt government officials who want him dead, Tae Ha embarks on a mission to rescue him. This plan of restoring baby Prince Seok Kyun as heir to the throne is Tae Ha’s revenge plan for the years he’s spent putting on a façade of a crippled, silent male slave. His scheme for vengeance is much more forgivable, because he’s ultimately carrying out the dreams of the deceased Prince, and it isn’t based entirely on personal matters.

As the second-lead male figure, Tae Ha’s story was more heartbreaking than Lee Dae Gil’s. During the First Manchu invasion of Korea, he couldn’t save his wife from being raped to death or his baby son, who died in his arms. So he’s definitely wretchedly afflicted from the beginning and I fell for his sorrowful past. Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m the type of girl who falls for those poor loner guys who have nobody to love them! Haha! Anyway, I loved Tae Ha, especially after he encounters Un Nyun as he escapes from the government stables. His love for her is different, when compared to Dae Gil, and probably not as profound, but I like how he respects her as his equal. He doesn’t care about her past as long as she is honest around him in the present. He’s courageous, and if I was suddenly surrounded by bad guys, I’d definitely want this handsome general to rescue me. (Oh, how I wish…)

Yet no matter how great Tae Ha is as a character, Oh Ji Ho is just not a good actor. His delivery was not smooth at all, but rather a bit forced. It doesn’t help that he has such a monotone voice that practically ruined my picture-perfect perspective of his character! He looked freaking amazing in all scenes (Thanks to Mr. Genius Kwak Jung Hwan) but that voice was absolutely awful, verging on horrendous! I felt absolutely nothing for him once he opened his mouth. His facial range was decent, which I guess, somewhat makes up for the bad articulation, but it did not hide his flaws. Oh Ji Ho did extremely well in scenes that were fast-paced and packed with action, but just not when he is called to show subtlety. There were times that I forgot his pretty face, and howled in frustration at his poor acting. Thank goodness he was sometimes inconsistent. Maybe you should just stick to being a model, buddy, because you technically don’t have that acting savvy down yet.

Does this girl look like a slave? I think not.

Another under-acting and over-acting lead was Lee Da Hae, the poor woman who received tons of criticisms from both netizens and critics for her portrayal of Un Nyun. I can certainly see why and I guess I’ll expand my thoughts on this later in a bit. Let me first give a brief background of her character. As I’ve sort of noted above, Lee Da Hae plays Un Nyun, a female slave the serves Dae Gil’s family. While she was a slave in his household, she falls in love with Dae Gil because he watches out for her. During the cold winters, he presents her with a pair of lovely shoes to wear instead of the straw-made sandals, and also gives her hot stone rocks to warm her hands against the bitter cold. This is how their love progressed, until his father discovers that Dae Gil plans to marry her. In his wrath, he decrees that Un Nyun will immediately be sold away, but big brother Won Ki Hoon will not let that happen to his beloved sister. Ki Hoon burns down the entire estate, and leads her to safety. That was the last she saw of her Dae Gil, and ten years later, she is a noblewoman renamed Hye Won. From there on, she runs into Song Tae Ha and Lee Dae Gil — but I won’t reveal how and when they meet.

Now back to the criticisms, which I think do carry some merit against Lee Da Hae’s character. Part of it is due to her own acting, but another is the result of the poor development of her character attributed to the writer and production staff. From the first two episodes, Un Nyun looked too clean for a slave. There wasn’t a blotch of dirt in sight, nor any tears on her clothing. It was also clear that her nails were glossy, most likely painted. In a production of this size, I would think that they could afford to apply some dirt on her pretty face. However, in the drama’s defense, Chuno is a fusion sageuk, meaning that it fuses together the modern world with the historical, so the acrylic nails can be ignored. On the other hand, I am disgruntled with how Un Nyun doesn’t act like a slave.

I don’t know what the script says, or what direction she received, but there were times when Un Nyun acted out of her status. She addresses Lee Dae Gil like a woman of his equal, not as a slave. I know that she’s in love with him, but I would think that she would be much more cautious of being found out, and would try to ward off his affections. Yes, yes, love does some strange things to ya! Yet let’s all not forget that this is a historical drama that should portray slavery in the right light. Sure, she addresses him as “Young Master”, but the look in her eyes are too bold for a slave. In fact, I thought slaves weren’t even allowed to look at their masters in the eyes. Therefore, I was hoping that Un Nyun would be a much stronger character after 10 years.

Alas, I don’t think the drama gods were listening to me! When Hye Won emerged, she was still so, so boring! Given that the writer didn’t create a strong female protagonist, I still don’t think that’s an excuse for Hye Won to act so calmly in an unfair male-dominant society. It raised my ire to see her like that! It’s no secret that Hye Won/Un Nyun’s individuality could have been elaborated on, but never mind that. Let’s discuss Lee Da Hae’s under-acting. While surrounded by complete chaos, Hye Won sometimes had a blank, emotionless expression. She calmly did absolutely nothing, whereas the average woman would have been sweating their brains out! What could have been a climatic scene turned into an unexpectedly amusing joke. I guess I was also hoping that Hye Won would progress into a much more likable character instead of staying as a woman troubled with things of the past. It’s true that in the latter episodes, Un Nyun plays a pivotal role in saving Prince Seok Kyun, but it couldn’t wash away my first impressions of her humble character. She does demonstrate quick thinking on her feet, putting herself in danger in order to save the little Prince from trouble. By the end of the finale, the changes within her are subtle, and easily ignored. That’s not considered a good thing, especially since she’s the female protagonist.

It’s no doubt that the character couldn’t shine because of who was cast to portray her. Originally, it was supposed to Han Hyo Joo (Goodness, that would have been heck of a lot worse.), so I guess Lee Da Hae was the better choice. Still, Lee Da Hae’s acting was bland and flat here, and in terms of acting, I’d say she backtracked a bit from her debut in My Girl. If you’re a LDH fan, you probably won’t even care, but you have been forewarned! (Just like when I watch Rain in dramas, I don’t care too much about the over-the-top acting, because his Royal Hotness makes up for it! Mmhmm!) There definitely were some small changes between Hye Won and Un Nyun but I just wasn’t satisfied with her growth. I expected better from Lee Da Hae, so maybe sageuk dramas just aren’t her thing.

Adorable Seok Kyun, the third son of famous historical figure Crown Prince So Hyun

Adorable Seok Kyun, the third son of famous historical figure Crown Prince So Hyun Even though he’s just a little actor, I do want to point him out. Kim Jin Woo plays Prince Seok Kyun, the only surviving child of Crown Prince So Hyun. He is just like a baby doll, this boy. One of the most important characters (plot-wise), since both sides want him for their gain. There are those fighting for his safety, and those slyly waiting to snatch him away. Yet in the midst of this chaos, this little boy is oblivious to everything. He just smiles as if he’s a marble statue, making not a single noise or motion. How is it possible that he can sit still for so many hours? Doesn’t his face muscules ache from all that smiling? Even at this age, I have to constantly move around or else my poor muscles will cramp up! You would think that as a toddler, he would be pretty curious about his surroundings, since he’s not consciously aware of who he really is yet. I also thought he would be quite fussy once he was on the run, since he was used to getting special care, not to mention that little children are quite energetic. I think the writer could have delved into his character more, instead of making him a sitting duck. If they really wanted a silent, big-eyed boy to play Prince Seok Kyun, couldn’t they have gotten a robot doll? I’m sure it would have been just as effective.

I almost feel bad to admit that this boy sometimes irritated me. I mean, it’s really not his fault entirely and I should cut him a lot of slack. If I remember correctly, I just don’t understand why he randomly spoke only ONCE in the ENTIRE 24 episodes of the series! People are not only risking their lives for him, but actually dying! What’s even more amusing is that he doesn’t care — he’s too young to understand what the price of death is. I know, I know. He’s just a little kid, but I’ve seen better child actors out there. Just because he’s a little kid actor, doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t know how to act. You would be surprised these days. Some child actors are stellar! I do wish that the director gave him more direction, and the writer made him much more memorable. The only reason why I’m bringing him up is because he annoyed me. To everyone else, he’s non-existent. I can’t recall the number of times I tried to reign in my exasperation; I tried to reason with the bitter critic side of myself, but it just didn’t happen. But does it really matter that this little boy also acted like a mannequin, just like his “guardians” Lee Da Hae and Oh Ji Ho? No, I suppose not… I’m just feeling extremely nitpicky today.

Now let’s move on to the characters that didn’t irk me but grabbed my attention. I want to save the best for last, but we’re getting there. These were the second-leads that I found most interesting, and the ones that also saved Chuno for people like me that were getting bored.

I’m more than just a pretty face, so watch out for me!

First and foremost, I want to mention Seol Hwa, a completely different kind of woman than Un Nyun. Out of all the women in Chuno, she was the most noteworthy and intriguing female character for me. Her character had much more depth, and I don’t know if it’s a result of the acting or writing, or both, but I know that she was much more relateable than Un Nyun. She’s a great combination of stubbornness and persistence, knowing how to slyly get her way. Perhaps I like Seol Hwa so much because she actually uses her brain. This is vastly different than the rest of the gisaengs and slaves around her, who tend to not use their heads very much when they’re around hot guys. Well, who can really blame them?

Here’s a background, since we all have our little pasts to share: Seol Hwa is a gisaeng, who is like a geisha. She dances and tours the country with a traveling troupe, and at night, she entertains men to sleep, if you know what I mean. I guess if she were a modern gisaeng, she would most likely be a bar hostess/dancer, or maybe even a Hooters Girl. I don’t think I need to describe her job description further, but don’t let her past bother you. Prior to her life as a gisaeng, she was poor and motherless. Her mother left her when she was young, and her father died of an unknown disease. She stays as a gisaeng and prostitutes herself because she has no choice. One asset as a traveling gisaeng is that wherever she goes, Seol Hwa will ask if the residents there have seen a woman with a large birthmark in between her chest. It isn’t until Seol Hwa runs into Dae Gil and his gang, that she ends this chapter in her life.

There’s no question that Seol Hwa gives Un Nyun a run for her money. She’s funny but not stupid, sly but stubbornly loyal, and last of all, she can brighten the lives of Dae Gil & Co. I also like how she’s not the conventional woman. She can’t cook to save her life, nor can she obey instructions without question. Seol Hwa has grit, from her experiences in the worst occupation possible, but she doesn’t let her limitations bar her from what she wants to accomplish. She may not have any housewife skills, but she has musical talents and knows how to fight for herself. She’s seen the worst in humanity — as an object of pleasure, and not as a woman with equal rights — yet it doesn’t leave her entirely broken.

Even though Seol Hwa was sometimes in Chuno only for laughs, her most memorable scenes were the quieter ones. Despite her stubbornness on the surface, Seol Hwa won’t hold back the tears while she is feeling insecure. (By the way, I really love it when a character has so many layers within them! It opens up so many windows for further discussion!) You can’t just label Seol Hwa as the “second female lead”, because there were times when she wasn’t. She stole the show from Lee Da Hae, and deserved every second of her scenes! Who else should get credit for Seol Hwa other than Kim Ha Eun?

Chuno was my first impression of Kim, and boy was she good! Perhaps it’s because Chuno was her claim-to-fame role since her debut role in Conspiracy In The Court, but she was stellar in this! What a huge, huge difference between her and Lee Da Hae. In fact, I wouldn’t even compare the two together since it was obvious that Kim Ha Eun wasn’t just a beautiful face. She blew me away, she really did! Whenever she came on screen, I know my level of frustration decreased a few notches. For me, Kim Ha Eun was the wind that calmed the storm of disgruntlement within me. If she wasn’t in Chuno, I believe my computer would have suffered the consequences of my ire.

Slave Eop Bok and Commander Hwang: two men of entirely different stations, yet so alike in circumstances.

There are two other men in Chuno that I want to briefly mention here. I’ll begin with Eop Bok (Gong Hyung Jin) first. He’s not just a slave, but a former runaway that was caught by Dae Gil. Brought back to his master’s house against his will, one word changes his life for the worst: slave. That detestable word follows him around like an immortal pest, considering it was tattooed on his face against his own volition. It comes as no surprise that he holds a tremendous grudge against the slave hunter, and vows to kill him some day. As a slave under the rich, Eop Bok thirsts for freedom, that he can almost taste it. When he’s given the chance to possibly change the world around him, he takes it. Yet he’s ignorant that the one secretly ordering him around may be part of the same government that he is trying to collapse.

On the other side of the spectrum is Commander Hwang Chul Woong, a general that was saved by Song Tae Ha during one of the Qing Invasions, but eventually betrayed him to usurp his position. He’s callous and doesn’t have a heart to save his soul. If he did before, it’s no longer there by the time we see him in episode 7 of Chuno. His life should be grand and dandy — he’s the son-in-law of Left State Minister Lee, one of King Injo’s most trusted officials — yet it couldn’t be more pitiful. Despite being in charge of the Military Command, Hwang really has no control to make his own decisions. His life has actually been secretly manipulated by his father-in-law for the past couple of years. He was forced into marriage with a woman who has cerebral palsy, and he is ordered to kill Song Tae Ha, or else bye bye freedom! Doesn’t sound too great, does it? He can’t even visit his aging mother, knowing that he evil thoughts now consume him.

So Eop Bok and Commander Hwang have more in common than you would think. Both are pawns to officials with high statuses, and both crave freedom from their current situation. The two are bound by their society to perform the tasks of the higher-ups, to serve a master. To question or defy this unspoken conventional rules brings either imprisonment or torture. It’s also possible that they are working towards the same goal of changing the world for the better, except it’s according to their own definition of the word “change”.

I liked Eop Bok a little bit more than merciless Commander Hwang, albeit the latter’s role in Chuno was also very impressive. I see that Eop Bok has little to no choice in joining a revolution, since he was forced to be a slave since birth. His longing for change is inevitable because he’s not benefiting from being a slave. He wants to marry the girl he loves and start a family without worrying that they will be separated by heartless, money-loving men. I emphathized with Eop Bok, and rooted for him to win as the under dog. His story was truly heartwarming and lovable. Towards Commander Hwang, on the other hand, I was less sympathetic. He may have been forced into a loveless marriage, but his wife truly loves him.

It’s almost pathetically sad to see just how much she does. There’s this one scene when she tries to write a letter to him despite her handicap, but her writing is illegible. He tosses the paper away, not knowing that she spent hours on her writing. She had tossed a pile of crunched up letters, hoping to satisfy him for once. I ached for her, but I couldn’t blame Hwang entirely. He sees her as salt in his wounds and he may benefit more from this marriage, but he was also used by his father-in-law. I’m not diminishing his heartless acts at all, since he still chose to commit them in the end. I’m holding him accountable for his cruelty, except I do want to emphasize that he was driven by someone else to his current state. He’s only courteous to his mother because she’s the only relation he genuinely cares about. I suppose he’s acting due to self-preservation, and in fear that his own mother will be harmed. Yet, this man seriously has problems, which is why I love him, or rather, Lee Jong Hyuk who plays him. Brilliant performances, all in all.

Fortunately, good things don’t just end there. I’m grateful that there was one recurring individual that I kept watching Chuno for. He’s pictured above, see? Jang Hyuk, in probably THE absolute best performance of his lifetime, completely blew me away. I saw him as a male lead in another drama years ago, but he failed to make a lasting impression then. It wasn’t until this drama that I finally recognized him for his full potential. I believe that Chuno highlighted his acting career, and proves Jang Hyuk has improved over the years. Jang Hyuk’s Lee Dae Gil showed ranges of emotion that I simply cannot put into words for you. His character was probably also the most complicated of the bunch, and Jang Hyuk executed his lines perfectly. Unlike his co-workers, Lee Da Hae and Oh Ji Ho, whom my fellow bloggers have nicknamed “the two mannequins”, Jang Hyuk suited this role very well. I can’t imagine another Korean actor more perfect to play Dae Gil than him!

The character Jang Hyuk played was Lee Dae Gil, a man who was betrayed by the woman he loved. Although she was his slave, he saw her as his equal and planned to marry her despite the vehement objections from his father. Un Nyun was his everything — the air that he breathed, the sun that brightened his day, and the moon that lit the darkness of his path. It’s no wonder that once she disappeared and left from him, that Dae Gil starts to taste the everyday injustice of society. Stripped of his high social status and as the only surviving member of his household, he becomes a slave hunter as a means to survive, but also to search for Un Nyun and her brother, Won Ki Hoon. Dae Gil is bent on revenge to repay Won Ki Hoon for murdering his father, and Un Nyun, who stole his heart. I really like Dae Gil and the layered person that he is. I found him particularly admirable, because of his passionate love for a woman who scarred him so deeply, both literally and symbolically. He wholeheartedly devotes his life in pursuit of this one girl, and perhaps that’s why his story is tragic and beautiful.

Dae Gil didn’t make a generally good impression at first. When I first saw him moping around, clinging on to his long-lost love of ten years, I thought to myself, “Gee, well doesn’t this dude need to get a life! Welcome to the realm of reality man, where relationships don’t necessarily last!” In fact, I remember falling for Song Tae Ha instead, because at least the guy was moving on to greater things. It wasn’t until probably after Episode 12, that I developed a particular liking to Dae Gil. It wasn’t that I sympathized with his sad story, but that the actor who played him just constantly shone in the spotlight. Jang Hyuk didn’t just shine in Chuno, he soared! (Haha, he really did.)

Although I mocked his seemingly blind devotion to Un Nyun in the very beginning, I gradually came to respect him. Dae Gil grew on me and I admire and love him. Slaves may fear his name, and during the first impression meeting, he may seem ruthless, but there’s more to him than meets the eye. He tucks away his vulnerability while he’s on duty, so it will take him awhile to unveil his true emotions. Therefore when you see him at first, don’t be quick to condemn him. When he’s ready, Lee Dae Gil will reveal himself. Until he does, you must wait. I can’t really put into words Lee Dae Gil’s charismatic presence throughout Chuno, so that’s something you will have to watch for yourself. The pictures here just don’t do him justice. One of the reasons I admired Dae Gil’s love for Un Nyun, is because it’s rare in reality. How many men today love a woman as much as Dae Gil loves Un Nyun? Perhaps to those of us who haven’t been experienced enough in relationships would easily rule his love as unhealthy. Except maybe it is perfectly normal that he loves her for such a long time, even without seeing her face for ten years, because love is consuming. He doesn’t snatch her away, but continues to watch her from afar — and that, folks, just about kills me! There’s a reason why he stole this entire show and why he’s my Korean actor of 2010.

So is this drama even worth watching? Yes — and no. To be completely honest, I don’t love Chuno. Even as I was writing this review, months after I completed Chuno, I couldn’t even decide if I liked it entirely. Most of the acting and directing were satisfactory and likable, more than the plot itself. I liked bits and pieces of everything, but not the whole drama. On the other hand, it is probably one of the best 2010 Korean dramas thus far, even with a couple of months left in the year to go. Yes, it wasn’t worth all 24 hours. Yes, it was a let down. Yes, the acting was inconsistent. Yes, like all sageuk dramas, there are too many side characters to remember! But compared to some of the other dramas aired so far, it wasn’t as disappointing. (Yes, Cinderella’s Sister,Personal Taste, and Road No. 1, I’m totally talking about you guys!) In fact, if I had so much to say about it in this review, then wasn’t it also a success? Many times, I’ll watch something, think that it’s pretty decent, but have absolutely NOTHING to talk about afterwards. Therefore, Chuno kind of succeeds, since it brings its share to the discussion table.

Like I mentioned above, it’s true that this drama’s biggest strengths is in its directing. Chuno has many beautiful scenes that will captivate you. It will literally blow your mind away. The music is timed almost perfectly in each scene, and music is so very important in any production work. I can’t guarantee that watching the same special effects in slow motion will not be tiring; However, it is still an awesome experience. If you have 24 hours to kill, then I recommend Chuno. You may love it, you may hate it, or you will come away feeling indifferent. Who knows? Decide for yourself if it was worth the hype. Then come back and tell me what you think! Now, ladies and gentlemen, bring out the discussion tables, because some of us are ready to ramble away

Photo credits go to KBS Chuno page, Dramabeans, and 10 Asia.

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9 thoughts on “Korean Drama Review: Chuno

  1. I agree with sooo many of your comments. Hye Won with one look for every scene could climb out from under an Inn without a single speck of dust touching her, could climb up mountains without a sweat on her brow, although that annoyed me it was not enough to stop watching, I was enthralled. Seol Hwa was delightful, such a pleasure to watch, and Dae Gils journey was exciting, even while it was heartbreaking. He really was superb to watch. Song Tae Ha “sigh” lol. He’s Character was so noble and strong, I thought hes stiffness suited the military background. And Commander Hwang was so cold and ruthless, one of the most frightening “bad guys” I’ve ever seen. Every now and then I would think he might be human after all when he would prove me wrong. That little prince was a doll. 🙂

    • Aw, thanks for reading! 🙂 Yes, although I didn’t exactly like everything about Chuno, I still found it to be one of the best sageuks of 2010. A year later, my opinion still hasn’t changed. Jang Hyuk as Dae Gil is still one of my favorite characters in a historical drama to date and Seol Hwa has been one of the few ladies who have left a deep impression on me. (Just a side note: You should try out Conspiracy in the Court. Kim Ha Eun is spectacular.) I still stand by everything that I said in this review and in the future, if I was asked to rewatch this, I think I would. But only if I have a fast-forward button right next to me.

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  3. i just finished watching Chuno and I feel exactly the same. At some point I had to use the fast forward button, and it came a moment when I only was watching Dae Gil’s storyline. I feel the same, the show itself was not the best, but Jang Hyuk/Dae Gil was superb so I don’t regret enduring or fast forwarding because just watching him has been quite an experience. I think he was also magnificent in Tree with deep roots, but in that one, there was more balance between him and his co-stars. After Dae Gil, the music and action scenes are probably the next two things that got me excited about Chuno.

    There is one thing that I didn’t understand very well. What was Dae-Gil’s opinion about slavery? When he was younger, he wanted to change the world so he could love Un-Yun freely, but later, as he became disappointed with the world and more cynical, I can’t tell where he standed on the issue. It seems that he lost all hope for a change in the system and then regained it towards the end, when he said that one of the reasons to fight to his death is that General Song promised HE would change the world. I don’t speak korean so I had to rely on the subtitles, and I’m not sure they were good. Specifically there is a conversation he has with General Song when they were both hiding at the house owned by those silly women who were in love with General Choi. General Song tells Dael Gil something like “but, you were once a noble”. Dae Gil answers something like “I’ve learned that even a slave could act and dress like a noble, so being a noble is something you have here” (pointing to his chest). They said more things but I didn’t quite get what he meant. And for someone who believed in equality, he used the term “slave” as an insult, very often. Was that a defense mechanism?

    I know he is supposed to be a character that hid his true feelings all the time, even with his closest friends. He was always the tough, impenetrable guy (except we, the audience, knew better) That was sad and frustrating. I wanted him to truly vent. He sort of did, with General Choi, his only confidant, but it bugged me that he never had a real conversation with Unyun. He vented his anger, but he never allowed his broken and disappointed heart to speak to her with love, except at the very end, and even that wasn’t that much. She knew he loved her. And even if she couldnt guess it or read it on his face, she got confirmation from Seol Wah and Dae Gil’s frenemy who got his ear chopped. But did he realize she had also been thinking about him all those years? She did tell him she was happy to see him alive, but did he know? I always felt her connection to him as stronger than hers and General Song, even though their dialogues were limited to “You worthless slave” , “Young master”. But I wonder if poor Dae Gil got at least some sort of comfort in knowing she had loved him too. I felt there was no closure there and it bothered me. Too much subtlety for me haha!

    Anyway, if anyone has the answer to what was the dialogue about between Dael Gil and General Song when they were hiding in the house, please let me know.

  4. I guess you made some good points in your observation. I particularly liked Hwang’s wife. Her acting was immense and consistent. I was really disappointed when she was not given much recognition. Another point I want to raise is Oh Ji-ho’s acting. I guess it would really make a difference if you speak the language. On my end, as we watch the reruns in KBS (I missed the first telecast), I find his subtle actions quite endearing and poignant specially when Un Nyun was hurt and delirious (although I was wondering how could such a shallow wound cause such physical reaction. I just told myself that maybe she’s malnourished and had weak immune system to fight infection). Ji-ho’s underacting was, for me, remarkable. It was one of the most memorable scene for me. I guess the credit should go to the director. For me, all the repressed emotions between Taeha and Un Nyun before they joined together were remarkable. I am so sorry that Ji-ho had difficulties with delivery. I think the director had seen something in him that actually transcended onscreen. In a way, I am glad that I don’t speak Korean and just read the English subtitles. But Ji-ho’s monotone of voice was, for me just characterization, This way, I am able to appreciate my second sageok drama. My first was Bridal Mask but in the middle of the story I got fed up of Mok dan and the inconsistencies in the period setting.

  5. Chuno 9/10
    favourite characters min cho bok yi, seol hwa. best performance by Ha Si-eun as Lee Sun Young, the woman with cerebal palsy. Yes, an obvious choice to make. But i think it was an extrordinary performance. 2 questions. (1) what happened to eop bok. (2) when the guards or whatever had hye won’s picture in front of the,. Even if she had some kind of disease, it was plaom that it was her. it would have been better if she had worn something to hide her face.

    overall, a terrific drama.

  6. I’ve just finished watching Chuno on Netflix and enjoyed it very much. Thank you for your very insightful review. I do agree with many of your points and, although I really was captivated throughout, I found a few of the subplots quite hard to follow and/or uninteresting. For example, coming from a North American, non-Korean perspective, I never really got why the King wasn’t delighted to have his adorable and unbelievably well behaved little grandson (I’m assuming he was a grandson) back and the whole General Choi, tavern women triangle seemed pointless and distracting. I’m sure, however, that a lot of the nuances were lost in the subtitles.

    While I can’t comment on Oh Ji Ho’s limitations as an actor as I haven’t seen him in anything else, I thought as Song Tae Ha he was pretty good. This is a man who is so buttoned down, repressed and stoic that he won’t even hug his own infant son for fear of spoiling him. He loses his family, is betrayed and falsely accused, agrees to what must be the horrible dishonour of slavery in order to wait for a chance to help his crown prince, and, as a slave, is abused not only by his former underlings but also passively accepts abuse by the other slaves in the stable rather than fighting back and so on. He’d have to become an emotional block of ice to survive and I think the actor handled the character’s slow thawing and returning to humanity having learned from his ordeal very well. He will be a warmer, more loving husband to Hye Won and father to the Crown Prince than he ever was with his first family.

    The real standouts for me were Jang Hyuk as Lee Dae Gil, Lee Jong Hyuk as Commander Hwang and Ha Si-eun as Commander Hwang’s wife. All three actors were really able to express subtle emotional states through their eyes alone, always the sign of an excellent performance. Lee Dae Gil acts like a pig much of the time and the contrast with the refined young gentleman he once was is striking. But no matter how loutish and boorish his behaviour, Jang Hyuk always lets us know that Lee Dae Gil is more disgusted with himself than anyone else can possibly be. I was hoping to see more backstory on the character. Maybe a prequel??

    I got the same feeling from the Commander Hwang character as well. He’s more disgusted with himself than anyone else around him can be. The fact that the reality of what he has done finally penetrates his cold and remorseless exterior and that he is able to finally see his wife as a real person who loves him instead of a pathetic cripple is very moving. Lee Jong Hyuk is so good in the role that it didn’t really come as a surprise to me as his humanity was there all along, just very well buried.

    Ha Si-eun did an amazing job as Commander Hwang’s wife. She loves and is loyal to her husband even though she knows he was tricked into marriage, she disgusts him and he can only relate to her with cruelty. She’s an intelligent, spirited and determined woman trapped in a handicapped body. I have a friend who has cerebral palsy, although not nearly as severe a case as the character, and he was impressed by her performance. Ha Si-eun is a very courageous actor to play this role without holding back or being tempted to make the character more attractive.

    Anyway it’s pretty great stuff and I’ve started to watch other Korean dramas. Right now, I’m watching God of War which is very different in tone and style but equally fun.

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