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Chuno (2010) Drama Review


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STORY

Nobleman Lee Dae Gil loses his family, his wealth, his title, and the low-born love of his life at the same time. 10 years later, he is a toughened slave hunter, riff-raff on the lawless fringes of Joseon society, but always in pursuit of his lost love. Song Tae Ha, once a general in the king’s army, has a similar fall from grace and lives his life as a slave. Both of them encounter the same woman and get caught in the conspiracy that was responsible for their downfall.

Title: 추노 / Chuno /Slave Hunters
Genre: Action, Drama, Period
Episodes: 24
Broadcast: KBS2, Jan.-Mar. 2010


WRITING

Well, now that my story summary has Chuno looking like every other long epic tear-stained saguek, let’s talk about what it’s really like. Chuno is the most bipolar drama I have ever watched. It is thrilling and tense – with completely useless scenes thrown in. It’s cohesive – except when the story starts to throw crazy at us. It’s sweeping and epic and a little soulless at times – but still has that urgency and intensity that draw you in with every single minute.

The first half of the drama is frankly brilliant. Tightly plotted, beautifully executed, never a spare moment, scene after scene that ups the game. We feel for Dae Gil and his loss and his hunt for the one woman of his life, but the drama never dissolves into a weepfest. He’s happy bossing around the countryside with his sidekicks: the player Wang Son, the calm composed General Choi, and the awesomely brazen ex-prostitute Sul Hwa. He spars with his old gang buddies, the fantastically three-dimensional street villains that the drama gifts us with. In fact, there’s a whole lot of humor for such a fight-centered drama, propelled mostly by Wang Son and Sul Hwa, but also the village inn quartet who gossip late at night on the veranda. Plus the dialogue is really creative, especially with insults (“That trap of yours, always flapping like a rush of donkey farts”). And the fight scenes – beautiful to look at (more on this later), badass, and creative. I never got bored, even though there was a skirmish in nearly every episode.

Now for the second half. The plot had been showing a few uncertainties in the first half, but they really emerge here. There completely gratuitous scenes and a slave rebellion/conspiracy plotline that takes up time and gets absolutely nowhere. In fact, the drama just ends up full circle from where it began, with no tangible change whatsoever. By the end, the plot goes completely wacko (they’re dead! they’re not!) and starts dispensing of characters left and right without a nod to character consistency or logic. All of this being said, though, it’s still a gripping ride, if only for the fact that now you’re hooked and you have to know what happens next.

Chuno is epic, badass, and gripping, if a little loopy toward the end. It kept my heartbeat up all the way through and made me care for the characters. I think, in the end, that it was worth the hair-pulling.

Rating: 7/10

Note: This drama is rated 15+, with good reason. There’s quite a lot of violence (which I suspect may not be very disturbing to viewers today) but be warned of torture scenes. Also, there are multiple scenes of implied/attempted rape for thematic reasons (apparently if you were a nobleman then any female slave was a way to pass the time).

ACTING

Even if the writer was smoking weird stuff, the casting director wasn’t. Awesome ensemble cast, barring a few exceptions.

Jang Hyuk as Lee Dae Gil: This actor has justified every award and accolade he got for this role. Intense and uninhibited, he gave everything into this role. His Dae Gil feels love and pain with the same enormity, and Jang Hyuk makes the viewer feel it too. Kudos to you, Jang Hyuk, for being fantastic all the way through. What’s more, he makes the slave hunter completely believable. Once a pampered nobleman’s son, he’s now a real street rat: vicious, cocky and all swaggering bravado.

Oh Ji Ho as Song Tae Ha: He’s another casualty of political greed but walks the white side of the line, even as Dae Gil meanders back and forth. He has an interesting storyline with his old best friend, and a budding romance, but in the end he’s a white knight all the way through. Oh Ji Ho is decent, if a little flat at times.

Lee Da Hae as Un-Nyun/Kim Hye Won: Her character I found the least probable of the lot, and wasn’t helped by her weepy scenes early on. But she does get a character arc where she grows from a slave to a passive noblewoman to a person with a goal and a spine to meet it. I won’t tell you the outcome of her epic romance, but let’s say that it’s a satisfying ending for one person. Lee Da Hae looks like the genteel lady with inner strength that is Hye Won, but no spark of intensity here.

Lee Jong Hyuk as Hwang Chul Woong: The villain for the majority of the series, he’s a cool customer who betrayed his best friend and commander to take his place. He pursues his old comrade ruthlessly, but there are moments when you see the man he was: his devotion to his mother and quiet acceptance of his disabled wife. Lee is great here as a three-dimensional villain whose ambition got the better of him.

Slave Hunters:

Han Jung Soo as General Choi: he’s the stoic and composed one, the head of reason. It’s a good thing he’s gorgeous to look at, even as his fighting skills make you swoon.

Kim Ji Seok as Wang Son: He’s played mostly for comic effect, as the trio’s complaining cook and laundryman, with a thing for the ladies. Still, Kim Ji Seok does a pretty good job here.

Kim Ha Eun as Sul Hwa: She’s the reason I kept on watching Chuno after the plot went to hell. Brassy and brazen and fearless, Sul Hwa steals every scene she’s in. Kim is charismatic and spot-on all the way through as Sul Hwa matures and endures the hope and pain of unrequited, impossible dreams.

There’s the huge sageuk cast of politicians, gangsters, villagers, and slaves who all play supporting roles. All are solid, with veterans like Gong Hyung Jin, Lee Kyung Jin, Sung Dong Il, Ahn Seok Hwan, and Kim Gab Soo, drawing you in to every scene.

Rating: 9/10

DIRECTING

This, in my opinion, was what made Chuno worth watching for 24 full hours. It’s frankly gorgeous; a blend of technical mastery and artistic vision that makes it a visual treat for the eyes. I can’t think of any drama till that point that matches up to it, except maybe Painter of the Wind. The settings feature the beautiful Korean scenery from Jeju Island to the mountains of Manchuria. The camera action itself is highly stylized, almost like a video game with super-saturated colors, high contrasts, and a glossy sheen. Our fighters are lovingly depicted, each flawlessly muscled body in action.

The fight scenes are appropriate to the tone of the drama: more gritty and man-to-man combat instead of large-scale battles (of which there are a few). These are excellently choreographed and make each fight fast, engaging and thrilling; they’re also beautifully shot with slow-motion and creative camera angles. The director also pays attention to the emotional significance of each encounter. There’s a fight between Tae Ha and Chul Woong that is fraught with echoes their old friendship; at one point, they’re straining back-to-back, just as they used to fight when they were allies.

Chuno’s soundtrack is also one of the most memorable. It’s sweeping and grand at times, at others soft and stirring, and yet other times it’s fast, furious, and martial. It uses a mixture of traditional and modern instruments to fit the fusion saguek feel of the drama.

Rating: 10/10

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1) The visuals. If anything, just sit back and marvel at the beauty of what you’re seeing on the screen. Let the music sweep you away into a grander, tragic time. Get blown away by how beautiful a vicious fight can be.

2) The villains. The characterization in this drama is unexpected and three-dimensional, especially for the supporting villains. Gang leaders, thugs, assassins, and politicians add so much flavor and enjoyment to scenes (well acted as they are) that the drama never slackens even when the main characters are off-screen.

3) The epic. Love, betrayal, loyalty, war, hope, and tragedy. This drama has it all, and the stakes are always high.

  • key7101 likes this


1 Comments

This is my favorite drama too. Your review is comprehensive, amazing, thank you.
I think the first episode is too scary, too many tortures.
I feel lucky not to born in that era.
After several episode I could enjoy the drama.
The action, special effect is amazing, blended beautifully with the music.
 

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