It took me a minute to get around to Chuno. I thought, “How are we going to make slave catchers sympathetic?” Kdrama does it again! Chuno manages to blend action, zaniness and social commentary.
The Chuno team consists of the leader, Dae Gil (Jang Hyuk), who from the beginning clearly shows that he is not wrapped too tight. His facade of being a cold-hearted slave hunter is just that: even he tries to right some wrongs he sees in his business. He is accompanied by his faithful sidekicks, General Choi (Han Jung Soo), and Wang Son (Kim Ji Suk), who someone I know (Holly) calls Comic Relief. Although these guys have different personalities, they exhibit the kind of bond that audiences really like to see. One wonders how Dae Gil inspires such devotion.
These guys run….a lot! I know that they are slave catchers, but they cover a lot of ground. They work well as a team, and show that they use their minds as well as those well-toned abs. Looking for people means having connections and being able to track folk through the woods.
One thing I did not like about this Kdrama is the romantic triangle. Romantic triangles work when the object of affection is presented with two equally viable choices (see Boys Over Flowers), and it helps when the object of affection is personable as well. It takes very little time for me to dislike Un Hyun (aka Hye Won) (Lee Da Hae). Dae Gil loses more than a few grey cells looking for her….for years….while she just decides to go on with her life after they are separated. Ok, that’s cool. But when they run into each other again, she has feelings for him but also doesn’t want to give up her new nifty life.
And can we talk about how she got that life? The “romance” between Hye Won and Tae Ha (Oh Ji Ho) is unbelievable, as in, not to be believed. Who’s buying this? These two are on the run, both pretending to be something they are not. They don’t talk (really), and then POOF! They are in love, escorting the baby future king (they way they drag that kid around is wrong…but he’s cute, and doesn’t seem to mind). Tae Ha is no better, as he seems to be oblivious to the fact that his crew thinks she is bringing their cause down. So, you don’t really like her, you might like Tae Ha, and you eventually fall for Dae Gil’s goofy charms. We all know how this is going to end, and we don’t like it.
On the other hand, I liked the spunky Sul Hwa (Kim Ha Eun), the street performer who cons Dae Gil into letting her tag along on their exploits. Like the Chuno team, she seems to understand what it means to travel from one place to the next and be on the wrong side of the law. Through her, we are also treated to some traditional singing and dancing.
Sul Hwa helps to bring the zaniness as well. Because the Chuno team and Sul Hwa are on the outskirts of society, they aren’t bound by the niceties of things like manners. Wang Son is constantly testing the friendship and tries to woo Sul Hwa with tired pick-up lines, while Choi remains stoic. His ability to make the inn ladies squeal remains a mystery.
However, under all the frivolity is some interesting social commentary about slavery in the Joseon era. On one hand, you have Tae Ha’s unjust conviction as a result of corrupt court politics, and his desire to see the rightful heir take the throne, even though he is a baby. Tae Ha is wiling to sacrifice even his own life to honor his pledge, and at the same time, you have others who are just as determined to maintain the status quo.
On the other hand, you see a potential slave revolt. The series shows the circumstances under which people become slaves, the horrible way they get treated by their noble masters, and the small ways they try to eek out happiness under such severe traditions. While the slave revolt gets derailed because of some internal treachery, there is still one slave who makes a last stand.
While some people live happily ever after, others don’t (hey, it’s a historical Kdrama, we’ve come to expect this), but overall, it’s a great Kdrama that keeps your attention on several levels.
77computethis. “Chuno Slave Hunters Best Scene.” 30 Mar 2010. YouTube. 7 Nov 2012. http://youtu.be/57GkV0ewKOk