Yes, I know I’m late, but I have finally got to enjoy the delights (and there are many 😉 ) of the 2010 drama Chuno, Slave Hunter – a sexy and beautifully made sageuk with action and romance. I can be hard to please when it comes to dramas and if something doesn’t please me I’ll just stop watching even if I’m half way through. I had no problem getting through Chuno. It was fab.
But it was the beauty of the characters and their costumes and the cool choreographed fight scenes that was the real crowd pleaser rather than the story itself. Exciting chases take us from Hanyang (Seoul) all the way down to Jeju Island and back with fun choreographed fighting with a catchy soundtrack along the way. The drama presents two classes at the polar ends of society – slaves (nobi) and aristocrats (yangban). It’s all about extremes. And there are so many hot male characters we are spoilt for choice. (I’m not complaining about that) But although I enjoyed the action and the humour, and was appropriately disgusted by the toe picking – yikes – I didn’t cry – just felt a little pang of sorrow at the end. (I’m watching Misaeng at the moment and have cried in every episode so far! I wasn’t expecting to do that. 😮 )
Chuno is set in troubled times under the reign of King Injo (r.1623-1649) just after the Manchu Wars, where Joseon society is in chaos as the number of slaves in the country has increased and chuno slave hunters are hired to catch the ones who try to escape. The story includes political intrigue involving rumours of murder ordered by the king himself against his own son.
And then of course there is LOVE. Slave Hunter Dae Gil was a yangban but when he fell in love with his slave Un Nyun, his father got angry and punished Un Nyun for daring to set her sights on a yangban. Her brother got angry at the way she was treated and for revenge burnt down Dae Gil’s house killing his family! Then the two slaves ran away leaving Dae Gil heartbroken. Dae Gil joins a couple of guys to make a team of slave hunters who travel the country catching slaves for money. But he is still searching for the love of his life, Un Nyun. Jang Hyuk played this part brilliantly and I could feel his pain oozing out from the screen.
Here are some more thoughts on the drama (with SPOILERS)
(SPOILERS) So the story is billed to be a tug of war for Un Nyun between her first love slave hunter Lee Dae Gil and the man she meets on the run – military man Song Tae Ha.
But this part of the drama is a bit of an anti-climax. The episodes are packed with the searches and chases and sword fights that lead up to Dae Gil finding his love Un Nyun, but the meeting is left far too late into the drama.The pace starts off great with cliff hanger after cliffhanger where we feel that surely this time the lovers will be reunited. But because it is suspended for so long, by the time they do meet, it’s obviously too late for her to go back to Dae Gil – and they barely even speak.
Perhaps the dragging pace in the second half of the drama has to do with the number of episodes. This kind of drama usually has 20 episodes but this one had been stretched to 24. And it felt as though the final few planned episodes were being stretched out to fill the 24 episode format. I suppose the extra episodes were added since the drama was so popular. But I began to feel that there were too many fights. (Is it my imagination or were even the actors looking tired by the end!)
I loved the music though. It suited the feel of the drama so well. The modern rap and rock music in Chuno make the characters even more cool – if that’s possible 😉 . I don’t think it’s weird to have modern music in Sageuk. I love it. From an eclectic mix of ballad to rap, each plot line has its own tune.
The main theme song Change (바꿔) by Gloomy 30s is perfect for the chases and fight scenes between the slave hunters and palace guards. It starts off with a male choir (or is it monks chanting?) which is then joined by a rock background and interludes of rap.
The husky rock ballad Stigma (낙인 nakin – brand /stigma) by Yim Jae Beom (one of my favourite singers) expresses the pain of the slaves (who are branded with the Chinese character for slave). But the strong beat and rap of 민초의난 (mincho ui nan) by MC Sniper reflects a new resolve and passion released as the slaves start to believe that there is hope of freedom and that they are not powerless to control their fate after all. (They ARE powerless really, but they don’t realise it.
THE SEX FACTOR
Yes, this is a sexy drama. But all the sexiness comes from the men. The women may be beautiful but they are not sexy. UnNyun is too demure and prissy (and boring, sorry). Sul Hwa is too boyish. Cho Bok is feisty but too much of a tomboy. On the other hand, we are spoilt for choice in the hot men department. No stone is left unturned in searching for a variety of characters to cater for every possible taste.
The men exude sex appeal whether half-dressed in ‘stylish rags’ or in full silky soft military wear. Our half naked slave hunter trio spend most of the time running around virtually topless to reveal smooth six packs. First we are introduced to the three slave hunters, and how many of us are sure we can heal Dae Gil’s broken heart? Or break through the strong, silent exterior of General Choi, or tame Wang Son, the womanizer with the boyish charm? They are rough and ready. Dae Gil is gruff on the outside but soft on the inside. They are street wise and get along in life using their wit.
Then in contrast to the brash often vulgar slave hunters, we have the three men from military backgrounds, disciplined and immaculately dressed. Never a hair out of place, never a crease out of place emphasising the strict disciplined lives they lead. First we have Tae Ha, gentle but strong with his top model looks and height. Probably the top swordsman in the land but still modest, sensitive, and kind. A man who has already suffered heartbreak after the murder of his wife and child, but who has stoically moved on.
If he’s too nice for you, how about the tantalisingly flawed Chul Woong whose poor background suggesting hardship may have contributed to his thirst for power now. He is a baddie, but if only he had met a wonderful woman before joining Minister Lee, he would never have turned to the dark side in that insatiable but destructive search for power and respect. Right? And let’s not forget Baek Ho, the loyal guard who would die to save the lady he loves – Un Nyun. (Why are they all in love with Un Nyun? Grrrr. She never even looks at you, Baek Ho).
Right from the beginning of episode 1 we are encouraged to feast on the chiselled torsos of the leading men, and believe me, I did. But gradually I began to feel like it was being shoved in my face a bit. Yes, they have FANTASTIC bodies and yes, I enjoy looking at them. And I guess in real life their characters would have had great bods with all the physical work they had to do. (not sure if they would have been riding around half naked though..)
But the seduction is taken too far with the outdoor shower scene! It just made me laugh. The sex factor does begin to calm down as the drama progresses though perhaps when the director thinks the viewers are hooked enough on the story to keep watching.
Jang Hyuk acted Dae Gil’s heartache well and I felt the character’s pain all the way to the end. But I would have preferred to have seen another female character on the scene who could be strong enough to capture his heart and start to turn things around. Or at least mix things up a bit. He just pined after Un Nyun the whole time to the point where I started thinking, Come on Dae Gil, get a grip!
So I could be mean and say that Dae Gil created this situation for himself. He went against convention letting himself fall in love with a slave – which was never going to end well. And in the end it’s clear that he will be a tragic figure. Surely in real life he would have moved on with his life and met someone else?? (Yes, I know that’s why this is called DRAMA ) But making him such a tragic character was unnecessary. Unfortunately the young dancer Sul Hwa was never going to get his attention.
THE FEMALE CHARACTERS
I wasn’t loving the female characters to be honest. I don’t feel any sympathy for Un Nyun. After all she has 3 cute guys in love with her – Dae Gil, Tae Ha, and Baek Ho. (there’s no jealousy here 👿 She announces that she is strong and can help her husband Tae Ha but her actions are weak. When she was working for Dae Gil as a slave she feebly rubbed her hands from the cold. And when free we see her puffing and panting her way across the mountain whilst her hanbok remains beautifully clean and hair and makeup perfect.
Sul Hwa’s character doesn’t seem to go anywhere. But at least she is feisty and upbeat. The rather unusual female assassin from Qing is unceremoniously killed off early on before we get to know anything about her.
Cho Bok (above) is interesting though and to me, she is the character who best represents the inequality between men and women. She wants to join the slave men in their army to fight against the yangban. And she has the courage and skills to be great. But she is constantly told that she can’t shoot guns because it’s too dangerous for a woman. Ironically she is the one who is fearless, unlike the male slaves whose nerves take over when they have to kill someone. And so there is the sense that she will never reach her true potential and will always be held back because of her gender.
I like the way Tae Ha seems drawn to Un Nyun from the beginning and doesn’t want to let her go. He’s led a life being surrounded by men in the military and I can completely believe that he’d be tempted away from this by a young, beautiful, and vulnerable woman travelling alone. Sometimes Tae Ha seems a bit wooden certainly compared to the fluid Dae Gil. And his character is too gentle to be a soldier. But he’s still adorable. It’s very impractical for Tae Ha to take Un Nyun with him to Jeju though. And I felt a bit annoyed about it. No wonder he turns up late and it’s a miracle they make it in time for the reunion at all. He could get there 10 times as fast without her.
I find Un Nyun ridiculously and inappropriately romantic. She shows dissatisfaction with Tae Ha’s practical rather than romantic proposal. Like he’s supposed to take her to the Eiffel Tower and get down on his knee or something. The fact that he was one of the top soldiers in the country and guard to the Crown Prince and is in the middle of a job of national importance doesn’t seem to make any impression on her at all. (and it should) And the fact that she has already been through a wedding ceremony with the rich yangban should be an issue (but it seems to have been conveniently forgotten).
The interaction between Un Nyun and Dae Gil when they finally meet seems very subdued. Obviously they have to show restraint as she is married to someone else, but they have been thinking about each other for the last 10 years! He has been searching for her DESPERATELY. She has been going to the temple to pray for him and doesn’t want to think about anyone else. The moment she recognises him in the market is fantastic though. Her face says it all. His lingering gaze says it all too. But after that it is all very disappointing.
Towards the end it becomes clear that Dae Gil will meet a tragic end. He has nothing to live for now and heroically is prepared to fight to save his love even if it means leaving her with another man. That’s true love. And I found it moving when Un Nyun has to drag herself away from him knowing that she will never see him again. But before this final showdown he did have choices. He didn’t have to become a slave hunter and lead that life. He comes from a yangban family and could command respect. But he lets his love for Un Nyun take over his life. And by doing this creates his own destiny.
So for me, Sul Hwa (above) is the tragic character in the drama and the one character who I could cry for. She has been forced into a life as a dancer and lady of the night that only brings ridicule and disdain from others. Now that her reputation as a woman has been sullied, she knows that no decent man will ever want her.
Despite this she remains chirpy and upbeat. She’s feisty too, travelling around the country in her search for Dae Gil and his team of slave hunters who most of the time don’t seem to care if she is with them or not. She becomes desperately in love with Dae Gil but we all know that he will NEVER be interested in her.
Wang Son shows what men think of her – he tries to sleep with her but would never seriously consider marrying her. If he respected her, he would never behave like that. She shows that as a woman there is a class lower than a slave. And that is a woman who has lost her reputation. I said I didn’t cry in the drama but the final sight of her alone putting rocks on Dae Gil’s makeshift grave made me feel a pang of sorrow. Now she is alone in the world again. And it’s so unfair.