I just finished watching Chuno (Slave Hunter, KBS2 2010), so if you’ve seen it and fancy refreshing your memory, here’s a recap of the story.
The story is set just after the Manchu wars in the 26th year of King Injo’s reign (r.1623-1649) Diplomatic relations with the Qing Dynasty are strained after the war and the government disagrees over how to handle the situation. The Crown Prince has mysteriously died right after returning to Joseon from 8 years of captivity under Qing. Rumours suggest his own father, King Injo had something to do with it. Two of the Crown Prince’s sons are also killed leaving one son – Prince Seok Gyun. A group of officials who believe that he is the rightful heir to the throne now want to protect him.
In Joseon society more commoners have been demoted to the slave class leading to an increase in slaves trying to escape their terrible lives. Enter the slave hunters – Chuno -추노 (推奴) The word is made up of the Chinese characters for ‘chase’ ( chu 추 推) and ‘slave’ (no 노 奴 as in nobi 노비).
Chuno get paid to find and bring the slaves back to their masters. This is the story of the love triangle between Lee Dae Gil (a slave hunter), Un Nyun, the woman he loves, and Song Tae Ha a military officer loyal to the now deceased Crown Prince.
When I started trying to write the storyline I realised it’s pretty complicated! But there are two main plot threads – one is motivated by love and led by Dae Gil searching for his sweetheart Un Nyun. And the other is political where everything really starts from the puppet master and baddie Minister Lee who is working for the King and wants to prepare the country for war against Qing China. Tae Ha is interesting because he is in the middle – as a military general loyal to the Crown Prince he is involved in the politics of the country but then gets side-tracked when he falls in love. And of course in the midst of this are the slaves who have their own plot to escape slavery and become free. Well, they think they have their own plans but actually they are attached to Minister Lee’s puppet strings.
The love and political storylines set off a series of exciting chases with plenty of sword fights and rippling muscular torsos along the way Fun music too. There’s a race between Tae Ha and Chul Woong to get to the prince first. Tae Ha wants to protect him and Chul Woong wants to kill him! Then we have Dae Gil and his team of slave hunters who are assigned by Minister Lee to catch ‘runaway slave’ Tae Ha. Un Nyun is on the run too. The chases begin in the capital Hanyang (Seoul) and go all the way down to Jeju Island and back to Hangyang ready for the big finale – a fight to the death involving three men: Dae Gil, Tae Ha, and Chul Woong.
LEE DAE GIL (played by Jang Hyuk)
Chuno, Lee Dae Gil (played by Jang Hyuk) was once a nobleman who fell in love with his servant Un Nyun. But the strict laws regarding class at the time meant that a nobleman couldn’t marry his servant. He idealistically promises her that he will join the government and change the laws of the land but it’s not so easy – when he asks his father for permission to marry Un Nyun, his father is furious. He punishes Un Nyun for daring to have ideas above her station. But her brother rescues her and then wants revenge for the way the slaves have been treated. In anger he kills Dae Gil’s father and sets fire to his house. Then he runs away and takes Un Nyun with him.
Dae Gil having lost his family, his home, and the love of his life now also loses his idealistic thoughts of changing the world and turns to making money from hunting runaway slaves. He teams up with two other men who also become slave hunters ‘General’ Choi (above right) and a young crook called Wang Son (above middle). Later they help a young dancer, Sul Hwa (above left) escape from a dance troupe and she joins them too as she has nowhere else to go.
Dae Gil is obsessed with finding his lost love Un Nyun and gets the local artist Bang (played by Ahn Suk Hwan, above middle) to draw a ‘wanted portrait’ of her so that he can show people as he travels around the country. He says he wants to find her because it’s his job to find her – she is a slave. But surely his reasons are more romantic than that. 😉 Team Dae Gil spend time at the local inn where it is General Choi with his strong silent personality who gets the attention (and extra food) from the inn keepers Keunjumo (above left) and Jakeunjumo (right).
SONG TAE HA (played by Oh Ji Ho)
Tae Ha is a Yangban and military commander who served Crown Prince So Hyun. They were together in Qing (China) for 8 years after the Manchu wars when the prince was taken to Qing and held as a hostage. But Prince So Hyun tried to understand and work with the Qing Dynasty. Unfortunately, Tae Ha and the prince return to an anti-Qing atmosphere in the Joseon palace. (Joseon respected the previous Ming Dynasty but they think the Qing are ‘barbarians’!)
Soon after his return, Crown Prince So Hyun dies suddenly and mysteriously and there is a rumour that the King had his son poisoned (because he didn’t want a pro-Qing successor). And due to his loyalty to Prince So Hyun, Tae Ha becomes an enemy of the King. Tae Ha is framed for stealing grain from the royal storehouse and thrown into prison. He should be executed but the Left State Minister manages to have his sentence reduced to life as a slave. (still not great!)
As a slave, Tae Ha remains loyal to Prince So Hyun and is a member of a group of officials led by the now retired Left State Minister who believe that Prince So Hyun’s son Prince Seok Gyun is the legitimate heir to the throne. (at the moment it’s King Injo’s second son who has been named the successor) Tae Ha is instructed to get down to Jeju ASAP, where Prince Seok Gyun is living in exile, and protect him. (Crown Prince So Hyun’s other two sons have already been killed so everyone can see that Prince Seok Gyun’s life is in danger).
But to complete his mission he must first escape from SLAVERY! As the ex-commander of the army he knows how to fight. And one night he sees his chance, takes out his sword that he has kept hidden, and fights his way out of the palace. Now he is ready to head down to Jeju but he gets side-tracked by a beautiful woman …
UN NYUN / KIM HYE WON (played by Lee Da Hae)
Un Nyun is still in love with her yangban master’s son, Lee Dae Gil, even though she thinks he died 10 years ago in the fire started by her brother. But she still hasn’t forgotten him. She is no longer a slave as her brother bought them a yangban status and they now lead better lives and have become well known and respected in their community.
But her problems start when her brother insists she have an arranged marriage to an old yangban. Un Nyun who has changed her name to Hye Won doesn’t want to marry the nobleman as she still thinks about Dae Gil. (and the yangban is too old for her) So on her wedding day she runs away.
Her husband-to-be turns out to be a nasty, arrogant man who feels humiliated at being dumped and so offers a reward to anyone who brings her back dead or alive. He hires Yoon Ji, a lady assassin from Qing, (below right played by Yoon Ji Min) to hunt her down too. Un Nyun’s brother is worried about her and sends his men led by the dashing Baek Ho (below left played by Danny Ahn) to find her before the baddies do.
LEE GYEONG SHIK (played by Kim Eung Soo)
Im Yeong Ho, the Left State Minister is loyal to the now deceased Prince So Hyun and needs Tae Ha to help him protect Prince So Hyun’s son. So he takes early retirement in exchange for Tae Ha’s life being spared after the grain-slealing set up. His retirement opens the door for our baddie Lee Gyeong Shik (below), to become the new Left State Minister.
He has an anti-Qing view and he wants a king who will be anti-Qing and prepared to fight against them. So his goal is to kill Crown Prince So hyun’s son and to make sure that Joseon is ready to fight against the Qing when the time comes. And he will manipulate, lie, and kill anyone who gets in his way. He manipulates the big merchants to sell their collections of water ox horns (used to make bows for weapons) very cheaply, promising them promotion in the future. But he has no intention of keeping his promises. Commoners who help him are offered money but simply killed off when they are of no more use to him. BOO Minister Lee
HWANG CHUL WOONG (played by Lee Jong Hyuk)
Hwang Chul Woong is a military man who worked under Tae Ha during the Manchu wars. Even though Tae Ha once saved his life, Chul Woong resents him. So, tempted by power from the Left State Minister, he happily betrays Tae Ha and is rewarded by getting his position as 4th rank Commander of the military whilst Tae Ha becomes a slave. He seems to have a chip on his shoulder perhaps because he comes from a poorer background than Tae Ha and has an inferiority complex. He becomes too ambitious desperately craving respect, but he loses his moral compass and becomes obsessed with terminating Tae Ha – and killing many many people on the way!
His first big assignment from the Left State Minister Lee is to go to Chungju and kill the now retired Left State Minister Im Young Ho and stop Tae Ha from reaching the Crown Prince So Hyeon’s son. But Chul Woong isn’t keen to do the killing himself -he wants to send his men to do the dirty work. (After all Tae Ha did save his life before.) But the Left State Minister is annoyed at his attitude and finds an excuse to have Chul Woong arrested and put in prison until he ‘sees sense’.
Sure enough Chul Woong has time to think in prison and comes out a lot tougher, ready to do whatever it takes for him to get the status and power he thinks he deserves. He sets off to complete his mission this time without hesitation. He hires a team of slave hunters (led by Dae Gil’s old eonni Chun Ji Ho) to go with him to basically clean up the dead bodies and mess he leaves behind. They take the job for the money, but later the men are unceremoniously killed off to stop them talking.
Chul Woong has married Minister Lee’s daughter to get even greater status, but he doesn’t realise that his new wife is disabled. He later cruelly tells her that he has made many mistakes in his life but his biggest one was marrying her. He becomes a cold blooded killer killing anyone in his way to find Tae Ha and the young prince. His only saving grace is that he is kind to his mother.
A slave is a slave for life (there is no chance of moving into another class or bettering oneself) so they are often branded with the Chinese character 奴 노 no, as in 노비 奴婢 nobi meaning slave. This way it’s much harder to run away since everyone will see the word SLAVE across your face!
The unrest at court with the political factions squabbling is reflected in the unrest within the society outside the palace. The slaves who spend their lives serving the aristocrats usually have no hope of changing their lives and daren’t even have dreams of a better life. But now an unknown person is contacting the slaves promising to change the order of society. He is encouraging them to turn against their yangban leaders, promising them that if they kill the yangban then they can be free and eventually even become the leaders in their new government.
The slaves are excited by this glimmer of hope and they get hold of a gun and happily plan to kill all the yangban in revenge for the way they have been treated. They start to train using guns and look forward to taking over the country!
Tae Ha manages to escape as a slave from the palace and sets off on his mission is to get to the prince in Jeju. But Tae Ha is tired and injured after his escape. He’s already had one run in with Dae Gil. In the mountain he saves a young woman from getting attacked by a group of men. It’s Un Nyun who is running away from her arranged marriage. She’s grateful to him for saving her and since he’s injured she takes him to a temple where she can hide and he can recuperate.
Tae Ha spends time with Un Nyun (who now calls herself Hye Won) at the temple and seems to enjoy being near her. He should be focussing on his job – to go and save Prince Seok Gyun – but instead of heading off alone he suggests that they travel together. (He’s also a good guy and thinks it’s dangerous for a young woman to be travelling alone! Or maybe he just fancies her.)
But she’s still focussed on remembering Dae Gil and aware that she must hide her own past. She’s confused by Tae Ha since he’s very cagy about his own past and won’t say why he is on the run, so she can’t trust him completely. He doesn’t want to give away what he is doing since it’s of national importance! He finds out that her sweetheart is dead but that she has not forgotten him. And he has time to think about his own wife and child that were murdered years ago …
Meanwhile Dae Gil who has the reputation as the best slave hunter in town has been offered 5,000 Nyang (a small fortune) by baddie Minister Lee to capture the ‘runaway slave’ Tae Ha. (Minister Lee just wants him out of the picture and not interfere with his plans to kill the prince) And so now Dae Gil is hot on Tae Ha’s trail blissfully unaware that Tae Hae is travelling with his sweetheart Un Hyun! 😮
So at this point we have 4 independent groups chasing Tae Ha or Un Nyun:
1) Chul Woong is after Tae Ha and wants to kill him, 2) Dae Gil the slave hunter wants to complete his job and catch the slave Tae Ha and take him back to Hanyang, 3) Un Nyun’s slighted husband has sent the assassin Yoon Ji to bring Un Nyun back dead or alive, and 4) Baek Ho is sent by Un Nyun’s brother to find her before the baddies get her.
Dae Gil is soon hot on Tae Ha’s trail and quickly finds the temple where Tae Ha and Un Nyun are hiding. But the monk refuses to cooperate with him. Dae Gil discovers that Tae Ha is travelling with a mystery lady but nobody seems to know who she is.
Dae Gil and his crew work out where Tae Ha and Un Nyun are going and they are soon on their tail again. But they never quite catch them. They escape on boats and horseback. Dae Gil and Tae Ha both have some pretty useful skills: Dae Gil and his team carry fake government IDs (they say anyone can buy) which help them get their hands on all sorts of classified information. They have many practical skills too such as by simply putting their ear to the ground they can hear how far away horses are galloping and in which direction they are going. (How can they tell which way is east without a compass? That’s what I want to know!) Tae Ha uses horses to trick Dae Gil by sending the horses running away without riders. Dae Gil falls for the trick and follows the horses on a wild goose chase while Tae Ha and Un Nyun hide in an inn.
But Dae Gil is always very close and at one point he is so close to catching Tae Ha and the mystery lady that he manages to throw a knife into the lady’s back while she clings to Tae Ha as they ride away together on a horse. Dae Gil looks pleased at first that he hit her but then as she slumps on the horse he thinks he recognises her and realises to his horror that he has literally just stabbed his sweetheart Un Nyun in the back. General Choi and Wang Son refuse to believe that the mystery lady really is Un Nyun and believe it’s just wishful thinking on Dae Gil’s part. He often imagines he has seen her.
A young dancer called Sul Hwa escapes from her dance troupe and joins Dae Gil’s team because she has nowhere else to go. And even though they tell her to leave them alone – after all she can only slow them down – she refuses! She falls in love with Dae Gil who is gruff but trustworthy unlike the young Wang Son who just tries to sleep with her.
As they head down south Tae Ha and Un Nyun agree to go their separate ways when they arrive at their destination. After all they are only travel companions, right? But Tae Ha still doesn’t seem to want to let her go.
The chase continues down south where Tae Ha and Un Nyun paddle through the wetlands on a boat! (Upo Wetlands is actually an ecological park in the south of Korea and nice place for sightseeing btw!) Tae Ha is worried about Un Nyun being alone and sure enough as soon as they separate she gets herself caught by guards who are looking for her. The lady assassin is on her trail too and Tae Ha has to come and save her. Later the assassin strikes again but this time Tae Ha kills her. (she’s gone before we get to know her!)
Tae Ha then rushes off to the home of the retired Left State Minister Im only to find that he’s TOO LATE and there are corpses strewn everywhere. (perhaps if he hadn’t been concentrating so much on Un Nyun he could have got there earlier ) Chul Woong has murdered everyone and is waiting for him. A sword fight between the two men begins but then Dae Gil and his boys show up too. Dae Gil doesn’t know who Chul Woong is, but he needs to take Tae Ha back to the palace alive, so he starts fighting with Chul Woong too and an even bigger fight ensues!
Meanwhile Un Nyun is not helping matters at all. She pathetically gets herself into trouble again! There are guards showing her picture to the locals in the village and she tries to hide. But luckily it’s her brother’s guard Baek Ho who catches her first (at least he’s not going to kill her! He’s also in love with her!) Still Tae Ha comes to her aid again – having to leave in the middle of the sword fight! But Dae Gil follows him…
Surely Dae Gil and Un Nyun will finally come face to face? But we’ve been here several times already and AGAIN Tae Ha manages to lose Dae Gil just in time before saving Un Nyun AGAIN. Un Nyun wants Baek Ho to stop following her. So she tells him that she has MARRIED Tae Ha. Tae Ha doesn’t argue with this! Baek Ho is shocked. (and probably heartbroken) But he knows who Tae Ha is and respects him. So he agrees to go back and tell her brother the news.
Un Nyun’s brother discovers that Dae Gil is still alive and worries that he might do something to Un Nyun. So he sends Baek Ho to kill Dae Gil. But Baek Ho is killed first with a spear through the back. Dae Gil checks Baek Ho’s lifeless body, finds his ID (ho-pae) and discovers where he is from. Then he rushes off in the hope of finding Un Nyun.
But in the village he only finds her brother and is shocked to see that he has turned into a yangban! The tables have turned with the servant now dressed in finery and Dae Gil the yangban dressed in rags. (very stylish rags though 😉
Dae Gil learns that Un Nyun is now ‘married’ to Tae Ha. (She’s not married yet but her brother believes that she is) Dae Gil is shocked and he realises that it WAS Un Nyun who he stabbed in the back with his knife. Duh! (I thought the knife throwing incident was very uncharacteristic of Dae Gil though. We haven’t seen him commit unnecessary violent acts. Especially against women)
But even though Dae Gil’s life was ruined by Un Nyun’s brother’s actions, Dae Gil doesn’t kill him. Maybe because he knows this would upset Un Nyun. He just cuts his face with his knife so that he will be scarred just like Dae Gil himself is scarred.
But suddenly Un Nyun’s brother grabs Dae Gil’s knife and shoves it into his own stomach killing himself. But not before telling Dae Gil that they are half-brothers since Dae Gil’s father fathered a child with a slave… (I think this is a piece of info that didn’t need to be added! First I thought he was going to say that Un Nyun was his sister and so also Dae Gil’s half sister so they wouldn’t be able to get married anyway. But no, apparently Un Nyun’s father is different so she is no relation to Dae Gil. Still weird though. And this was a bit too Makjang-ish for me. Didn’t suit the rest of the drama at all)
SAVING PRINCE SEOK GYUN
Anyway, down in Jeju, Tae Ha’s men are looking after the young Prince Seok Gyun ready to take him away to safety and join Tae Ha as soon as they hear the word. They send each other notes on paper with letters that only appear when the paper is put in water. Then they have to eat the paper to dispose of the evidence. 😕
One of the men Han Seom (below) was with Tae Ha in prison. At first everyone thinks that he betrayed the other soldiers so that he himself could get out of prison, but later we hear that he was ORDERED to betray the other soldiers so that he could get out and lead the team of soldiers protecting the young prince.
Han Seom acts like a baffoon so that people won’t take him seriously, but as soon as he gets the message that it’s time to take the young prince away and meet Tae Ha at the alloted place, his character changes completely and he becomes serious. Unfortunately the court lady in charge of looking after the young prince doesn’t trust him and is mortified when he grabs the prince and orders her to follow him! (Prince Seok Gyun is very cute and addressed as Ma Ma – the way to address a King)
Han Seom and the court lady carry the young prince over tough terrain through the mountains and Han Seom confesses that he has feelings for her. But Chul Woong is on their trail and just as Han Seom announces that he wants to marry her, a wooden javlin flies through the air and pierces the court lady’s back and she falls to the ground and dies. Oh dear. Han Seom is shocked and distressed but he must try to save the prince. First he runs away but he can’t get away from Chul Woong especially since he is carrying a child! So he has to turn and fight. Still holding the boy! (it’s a good job they are only pretending. That would be dangerous! 😉 )
Things are looking bad, but Tae Ha is on his way too, running across the mountain. He is held back by Un Nyun though who is puffing and panting behind him. (Of course he is superfit but she seems defenceless and weak not to mention out of shape!) Finally, Tae Ha runs on ahead and manages to get to Han Seom’s side before it’s too late. He slices Chul Woong with his sword but doesn’t kill him. Instead he simply tells Chul Woong to stop this naughty behaviour. (Unbelievable! He’ll regret that later!)
Tae Ha rushes back to get Un Nyun while Han Seom waits anxiously with the prince by the boat. Tae Ha is certainly distracted from his mission by Un Nyun and his superiors will criticise him for this later. Amazingly Tae Ha and Han Seom make it to the meeting place on time and his loyal men turn up at the allotted time too. They all bow to the prince and show their allegiance to him as the heir to the throne. Then they set up camp in a house they borrow from a local official.
Chul Woong returns to Hanyang but must report that he DIDN’T manage to kill the prince. Minister Lee and the King are not amused. The king is not shown in a good light as he is angry that the assassin he ordered to kill his own grandson has failed in his mission! The ambassador from Qing who obviously wants a pro-Qing heir announces that he wants to take Prince Seok Gyun with him back to Qing. The King refuses to allow this.
DAE GIL’S BREAKDOWN
Dae Gil is in shock after hearing of Un Nyun’s marriage to Tae Ha. But he finds the village where Tae Ha and his men (and Un Nyun) are hiding the prince.
In the strict Confucian society it’s odd that a single woman is there amongst all the men and Tae Ha knows they are being gossiped about. So he asks her to marry him (rather clumsily at first). We know that her feelings have been gradually growing away from Dae Gil (when she lost the hot stone he had given her years ago) and turning to Tae Ha. She agrees to marry him. (Surely she needs to meet Dae Gil soon? This is really starting to drag!)
The soldiers get ready for Tae Ha’s wedding but there is trouble brewing amongst the men. Some of the scholar officials believe that Tae Ha is distracted by Un Nyun’s presence when he should be focused on their mission – Panjeong (restoration of the legitimate heir to the throne).
There are also ideological differences surfacing between the soldiers and the scholars. Tae Ha is idealistic and wants to support the cause because he thinks that having the legitimate King on the throne will make a better country. But now he is concerned that the scholars are not doing this for the right reasons but for selfish reasons: for more power and status rather than for the good of the country. He is right to be concerned because later the leader of the scholars, Jo Sun Bi (played by Choi Duk Moon, below) is tempted by promises of promotion and betrays all his men by handing them over to Minister Lee.
Just as everyone gets ready for the wedding ceremony, Dae Gil arrives quietly. He hides and pulls out his knife. He looks wild and angry and ready to attack, but then his face falls when he sees Un Nyun appear looking radiant. He just stares at her and then the anger seems to come back to him as he watches her smiling up at Tae Ha. It looks as though he is about to attack but then she turns and picks up the young prince and Dae Gil just slumps down. He must think the child is hers. He can’t do anything now and simply leaves as quietly as when he came. But he is shell-shocked and wanders around in a confused state. He has spent all these years looking for Un Nyun but now there is no happy reunion as he finds her happy with another man.
DEATHS OF WANG SON AND GENERAL CHOI
Dae Gil loses his will to be a slave hunter and he tells his mates Wang Son and General Choi that they should all give up and forget about chasing Tae Ha. He seems to have lost his will to live too. But his young teammate Wang Son refuses to accept this. He still wants to capture Tae Ha and get his big reward. So he goes off to try to find Tae Ha on his own. It’s obvious that this is not going to end well. Tae Ha could easily beat Wang Son in a fight if they came face to face but Wang Son doesn’t even get the opportunity to catch Tae Ha as Chul Woong is in his way!
Chul Woong has now been chasing Tae Ha for what feels like forever. He must be getting more and more annoyed. (He looks hot though even if he is very terrible 😉 )
And he had to face the humiliation of going back to Hanyang and reporting to Minister Lee that he was unable to fulfil his mission. He does not mean to make any more mistakes now and easily finishes off Wang Son. (It’s a shocker that he kills him. It seems that Chul Woong has lost all reason and is just killing anyone willy nilly. There was no need to kill Wang Son, was there?)
For another shocker Chul Woong sets a trap (the fireworks distress signal) to catch the other slave hunters. (Probably because he feels they are getting in the way and he wants to get rid of Tae Ha himself?) General Choi knows something is wrong and is rushing to help Wang Son but he is too late and then steps into the trap himself and after a sword fight he ends up getting killed too. NOOOOOOOO! By the time Dae Gil arrives at the scene responding to the fake distress signal, nobody is there. And he is left believing that it is Tae Ha who has killed his friends. (Chul Woong hides happy that Dae Gil thinks Tae Ha is his enemy. Maybe he’s hoping Dae Gil will kill Tae Ha for him?)
It’s been a bad day for Dae Gil. He has just learned that his sweetheart is married to another man and now discovers that both his friends are dead probably killed by her husband. He collapses on the ground and yells in frustration and pain. Then he begins searching the mountain looking for his friends or at least their corpses. 😥
UN NYUN AND DAE GIL MEET
After searching for his friends until he is exhausted Dae Gil returns to his room to find Sul Hwa still waiting for him. He doesn’t want her hanging around him but offers to buy her fabric and so takes her to the market to look for nice silk for outfits (Perhaps as a goodbye present? Or just as an excuse in the plot for him to bump into Un Nyun in the market?)
And so they go to the market. Un Nyun happens to be in the market too and Dae Gil spots her first. The feminine materials and colours show his gentle side as he softly lifts a piece of silk blowing in the way so that he can see her more clearly. The fabrics represent Dae GIl and Un Nyun’s love from the past. (Didn’t they play peek-a-boo through the washing on the line or something when she was a slave?) He gazes at her longingly for a very long time indeed.
Then FINALLY Un Nyun sees Dae Gil through the silks and FINALLY realises that he is still ALIVE. (This was far too dragged out. She should have seen him much earlier. Now she is committed to Tae Ha and has little choice on who to be with). She takes a step towards him but then sees that he’s with someone, Sul Hwa.
Un Nyun thinks they are a couple and leaves them alone. ( I find this hard to believe though. If you had been thinking about someone for 10 years and realised they were still alive surely you would want to at least talk to them? Even if they were with someone else. But she seems to have feelings for Tae Ha now too though which is confusing for her and perhaps she feels that meeting Dae Gil would be disloyal to Tae Ha.)
Dae Gil must have some pretty negative feelings towards Tae Ha now! First he believes that Tae Ha killed his friends and secondly he is now happily living with the woman Dae Gil himself loves. So, not surprisingly, he decides to capture Tae Ha after all and he sets off alone to do it.
Tae Ha and Dae Gil come face to face. There is a lot of animosity between them. And misunderstandings. Several of Tae Ha’s men have been killed and he thinks it is Dae Gil who has killed them. Dae Gil thinks that Tae Ha killed his friends. The men don’t realise it is Chul Woong who is behind all the murders! Chul Woong later continues to kill all of Tae Ha’s men including Han Seom, Tae Ha’s second in command. (I bet Tae Ha wishes he had killed Chul Woong when he had the chance) But now to complicate things Un Nyun has to step in and tell Tae Ha that Dae Gil is her long lost love who is not dead after all. Awkward.
Un Nyun has been feeling guilty for not telling Tae Ha the truth about herself. She also wants to tell Tae Ha what her real name is and that she is a slave. But he stops her. He can she that she feels uncomfortable talking about something and perhaps he doesn’t want to hear it.
Later Dae Gil and Tae Ha march off to have a macho duel but Tae Ha promises Un Nyun (although he still wants to believe her name is Hye Won) that he won’t harm Dae Gil. They fight for hours until the sun sets and then collapse on each other exhausted. During their fight they both have an opportunity to kill the other but they don’t take it. They must be thinking about how Un Nyun will feel if her husband/first love is killed.
But finally Dae Gil captures Tae Ha and takes him back to the palace in Hanyang to hand him over to Minister Lee. Dae Gil was paid in advance for catching Tae Ha on the condition that he did it within a month. But it has taken over a month and Minister Lee uses this as an excuse to have Dae Gil thrown in prison with Tae Ha. Both men are tied up and tortured by Chul Woong for information on the location of the prince. They refuse to talk and are condemned to hang.
In prison Tae Ha realises to his horror that there is a traitor amongst them and that his men have been betrayed and killed. And Dae Gil had nothing to do with this. It’s also revealed that all the ‘traitors’ who supported Prince Seok Gyun becoming king have all been arrested. So Minister Lee has won. But they still don’t know where the prince is. Un Nyun has taken him into hiding somewhere.
DAE GIL IS HANGED
Dae Gil is the first to be hanged while Tae Ha waits next to him for his own turn. He splutters for ages and it seems that he is refusing to die. Tae Ha looks on sympathetically but there is nothing he can do.
But suddenly (after what feels like ages) arrows and knives start flying through the air causing chaos. It is the Qing ambassador’s men come to save Tae Ha. Dae Gil’s old eonni, older brother Chun Ji Ho (below played by Sung Dong Il) has come to the hanging dressed as a soldier to try and help him escape and here takes the opportunity to get him down from the noose.
Tae Ha is taken away to the ambassador but first throws a sword to cut Dae GIl down from the noose. (looks like they are going to get along better from now on!) Dae Gil falls to the ground lifeless. Chun Ji Ho pounds his chest until he splutters back to life. (Phew. That was close)
Chun Ji Ho wants to team up with Dae Gil and take revenge on Chul Woong (since all of his men have been killed by Chul Woong too!) But as they escape Chun Ji Ho gets fatally injured with an arrow. So now everyone in Dae GIl’s slave hunter community seem to be dead.
Tae Ha tells the Qing ambassador that he doesn’t know where the prince is. This is true and as soon as he can, he sets off to find Un Nyun and the prince. But Chul Woong is after him, angry that he escaped the noose. The ambassador sends his men after Tae Ha too to bring the prince back.
Un Nyun has gone to her home town to look for her brother. She doesn’t know that both he and Baek Ho are dead She doesn’t get a respectful reception from the local magistrate because after an investigation the authorities have discovered that her brother bought their yangban status. She also has a child with her even though she ran away from her wedding. (Without their virtue Joseon women have nothing ).
But as she is looked down on and insulted by the magistrate, Dae Gil suddenly jumps down from the roof with a knife to the magistrate’s throat. Tae Ha appears too and they fight their way out of there escaping with Un Nyun. Now the two enemies are working together!
And now the time has come for Un Nyun to confess to Tae Ha that she is really a slave and admit she has not business being married to him. She says she will leave. He says he needs time to digest this new info. Although he himself is technically a slave – since he was demoted to the slave class after his ‘crime’ – he doesn’t believe that he really is a slave because he was framed. He believes he is a yangban and wants to believe that Un Nyun is also a yangban. That way their marriage is socially acceptable. (Although Dae Gil fell in love with Un Nyun knowing that she was a slave, Tae Ha seems more conservative in his views and I bet he wouldn’t have looked at her if she had been a slave in his house.) But now that he is already in love, he doesn’t want to let her go.
DAE GIL AND HIS TEAM ARE REUNITED
New best buddies Tae Ha and Dae Gil hurry away with Un Nyun. (No this isn’t awkward at all!) They go to a village run by another one of Dae Gils’ eonnie elder brothers. The ambassador’s men are following Tae Ha because they want to protect the prince. But Chul Woong is on the case too.
At the village Dae Gil is overwhelmed to find that Wang Son and General Choi are still alive. They are injured but not dead! The village is full or runaway slaves hiding from the authorities but they are glad to see Dae Gil as, showing his compassionate side, he freed them (after catching them as a slave hunter).
Tae Ha has lost his men – killed my Chul Woong – but still hopes that at least the prince can be saved even if he is no longer the future king. So he heads off with Dae Gil to secretly meet with the current Crown Prince to ask him to pardon his nephew Prince Seok Gyun.
But the prince says he has no power to help the prince and suggests that Tae Ha leave Joseon with the young prince and escape before he gets accused of treason. Chul Woong is STILL on the hunt for Dae Gil and Tae Ha. (This is taking a long time!) He is hiding ready to pounce on Tae Ha as soon as the Crown Prince leaves and he has no plans to let Tae Ha escape!
But his plan is foiled AGAIN. Chul Woong has ordered his men to back him up to catch Tae Ha but they have been distracted by the sounds of explosions and fire in another part of the city and they have all gone off to deal with that. So Dae Gil and Tae Ha get away. Chul Woong’s men get severely punished for disobeying him later.
THE SLAVE LEADER SETS A TRAP
Throughout the story a group of slaves have been killing local yangban. The slaves are innocent and naive and think that they will be able to kill all the yangban and then become free and perhaps even be in the government themselves. They have been sent instructions about who to kill by an anonymous leader who finally reveals himself to be a young male slave. He is (suspiciously) intelligent and well spoken but says this is because he educated himself. He promises to lead them to victory and freedom from slavery.
But the slaves struggle with how to deal with each other now that they are trying to change the class structure of their society. Should they use polite language to the leader if he is younger than they are? Or should they speak plainly as they are all supposed to be the same level? The dilemma causes confusion and arguments. And many of them don’t even know what they will do when they are no longer slaves as they have not been able to have dreams or ambitions. Some just want to find relatives who have been sold to yangban in other areas.
The slaves have to endure so much – young female slaves get sold to local yangban as sex slaves and their parents can do nothing about it. But now they are starting to get more confident and turning against their masters. Even without getting instructions from their young leader they start killing off their yangban owners. They get more guns ready for bigger attacks on the upper classes.
But there is something suspicious about the handsome slave leader (played by Park Ki Woong above). He seems too educated and too good to be true. He becomes more suspicious when he coldly murders a slave who has been stealing money meant to buy guns.
And we soon discover the shocking truth: he is working for Minister Lee. So he is not a slave who wants freedom – he is an ambitious young yangban who is using the slaves to help him get a promotion! Ironically he has been telling the slaves that they are working independently for their freedom but actually they are still working for the upper classes doing their dirty work and will never be free.
He reveals to Minister Lee that he can’t stand addressing the older slaves politely as hyeongnim ‘older brother’ anymore. And the stench of the slaves is getting to him too. Minister Lee finds this all very amusing.
But the government needs an excuse to round up as many slaves as they can and they can do this if they make all the citizens in the country re-register their IDs. They need slaves to send to the north to work in the mines to prepare for war against Qing China and estimate they can get around 100,000 – if you include all those in hiding. If there is proof that the slaves are leading a revolt against the king then this is a perfect excuse to round them up. But ultimately the king is behind all this too. (King Injo below played by Kim Gab Soo)
But the naive slaves still think that they are leading a revolution ready to overturn the government and change the power of the country. They are unaware of the young slave leader’s true identity and don’t realise that they are in a trap until it’s too late.
The slaves gather at the meeting place for the next attack. But they soon realise that something is wrong. There is only a small group of them ready to ‘attack’ but they were told there would be over 200 slaves. The young leader’s attitude changes towards them too from kind to condescending as he tells the slaves that they STINK! It’s a trick and suddenly they are ambushed and caught red handed with their guns. They are the scapegoats used to ‘prove’ that there are guilty slaves. Yes, they HAVE killed yangban but they were bamboozled into doing it. All very pitiful.
THE SLAVE EOP BOK
The slave Eop Bok (played by Gong Hyung Jin, above) is the best shooter in the slave team. He can coldly kill the yangban he is ordered to kill by refusing to see them as human. It’s only when he has to kill one of their own slaves (to stop him talking when he gets captured) that he feels like he has actually killed a real person. He’s a key player in all the yangban attacks, but he is not with the others when they are caught in the trap.
He misses the meeting time because he is angry that the female slave that he likes Cho Bok (below played by Min Ji Ah) has been married off to an old man with 3 kids whose wife died. He goes crazy and in a rage kills their yangban owner for selling her. Then he takes his gun and hurries to find her and save her. Then he rushes to join the others.
But he arrives to find that it was all a trap and his friend is dying. Reality hits him. He goes to take a look at the palace gates and realises how innocent they all were to think that they could attack the palace by themselves. He realises how easily manipulated they were.
But he is furious. Eop Bok weapons up with as many guns as he can and marches to the palace. Then he stands outside, loads his gun and calmly opens fire. He kills the guards on duty and brazenly marches inside the palace walls! The guards are not ready for this. They only have swords not guns and panic ensues. Eop Bok starts shooting at everyone he sees! He shoots and kills the fake slave leader who has clearly got the promotion he was hoping for as he now is dressed in his new government uniform. And then he turns the gun on a very nervous looking Minister Lee! Very dramatic indeed. 😮
The gun is aimed at Minister Lee for what seems like an age. Surely someone will get to Eop Bok and stop him before he fires? But no, shockingly he manages to shoot Minister Lee too who is staring at him in bewilderment without saying a word. He was looking so happy too as he had just been put in charge of the re-registering of the people by the King. Chul Woong and his men rush to the scene. But Chul Woong looks on without emotion when he sees that Minister Lee has been shot. He’s probably happy the Minister Lee is dead! (But surely security is Chul Woong’s responsibility though? Shouldn’t he be in trouble for this?) But Chul Woong seems numb to anything apart from catching Tae Ha. And he sets off again to do this!
THE FINAL BATTLE
Dae Gil and Tae Ha seem to be getting along well now. They work together with bow and arrow and swords to out smart the ambassador’s men who are after them. They head for Lake Ansung where Tae Ha and Un Nyun intend to escape with the prince. At first Dae Gil decides to leave them to go the final part of the journey alone. But in the end changes his mind as he wants to make sure that Un Nyun gets away safely. Oh! Sul Hwa is still looking for Dae Gil too.
Dae Gil and Un Nyun finally get a chance to talk. But it’s too little too late (in my opinion). Dae Gil decides to go on ahead to the boat and check the road is clear. But as he waits he feels something is wrong and rushes back to find Tae Ha struggling in a battle with Chul Woong and his men.
This is not going to end well and during the vicious battle everyone gets injured and slashed with swords. Dae Gil takes over and tells the injured Tae Ha to go and take his wife to safety. Dae Gil is getting ready to die. Tae Ha doesn’t want to leave him – he’s a soldier after all – but Tae Ha knows he is too injured to help Dae Gil and he needs to think about Un Nyun and the prince.
Tae Ha and Un Nyun get away leaving Dae Gil fighting with Chul Woong. But it’s emotional for Un Nyun who knows that there’s no way that Dae Gil will be able to survive this battle. He essentially sacrifices himself for her. Later Sul Hwa finds Dae Gil still alive but his injuries are too severe and he dies in her arms. She covers his body with rocks by the river.
TYING UP LOOSE ENDS
The king refuses to pardon Prince Seok Gyun even though the Crown Prince asks him to. The King looks weary and the following year he dies. We are told that the new King Hyojong pardons Prince Seok Gyun the following year. And 6 years later slave hunting is banned in Joseon.
General Choi and Wang Son discover that Dae Gil really has bought them a house and land. Dae Gil’s land hasn’t been paid for though – he must have know that he would not be needing it. 😥
The female slave Cho Bok carries on living in the village with the other runaway slaves perhaps still unaware that her man Eop Bok is dead after having assassinated several guards and one of the top three government officials in the country!
Goodness, the ending is pretty grim – although I expected that Dae GIl would probably die in the end. He has nothing to live for now. Although Chul Woong is still alive, he has ruined his own life too. And it looks like the reality of what he has done has finally hit him when he goes home and cries in front of his wife. He has killed so many people, but Minister Lee (his father-in-law) is dead now and Tae Ha got away anyway. So what was it all for?
But the tragic character for me in the whole drama is the young dancer Sul Hwa. She has struggled alone to find Dae Gil because she knows she can trust him and she loves him. And now she is the one who has to say goodbye to him and bury him – not his fellow slave hunter friends or his sweetheart Un Nyun. And now Sul Hwa is all alone. Sad.