Episode 3 was hard to watch. Kang To goes deeper into hell hole while Kang San juggles to maintain his role as a filial son, badass hero, and a loving brother all at once. Nobody says it’s easy but we see firsthand why it’s a painful road nobody wants to take unless pushed into the depth of loss and desperation. Sometimes, the means to survival is to let a part of you die. Shin Hyun Joon blows my mind in this episode as his face subtly transitions from suppressed anger to sleek playfulness in the flick of a finger. What to do with him? Before all this, I always remember him as the brother who gave up his own eyes for Choi Ji Woo in Stairway to Heaven, and now his Kang San tops the list.
1. Kang To’s promise to capture Gaksital no matter what
If we make a bet, how many times do you think Kang To is going to shout “I’ll catch Gaksital with my own hands!”
Going off from last episode, Kang To pleads earnestly with Director Kono for another chance. Chief Taro and Kenji gloat in their seats, reminding the hot-blooded officer to do as he’s promised – confess that he’s working with Gaksital. When Director Kono agrees to Kang To’s request, the bad guys snort, but is quickly subdued the moment Director Kono hints about further investigation regarding the symbol on the dead bodies. Furrowing his eyebrows, Chief Taro reluctantly agrees on one condition – he’s ready to lose it all if he’s wrong in the end, but is the Director of the same mind? Could he be stripped down to nothing when he’s been on top all his life? Taro is basically threatening Kono to put in his all.
At Kyungsung head quarters (Japanese name as Kishokai?), big boss Ueno Hideki calls for the execution of a fellow member, who can’t confirm whether or not Lee Sun and his family was indeed killed that day. His punishment is a glorious death because Boss Hideki believes trouble maker, Gaksital, is related to the Lees family.
We also get the first glimpse of our second lead lady, Chae Hong Joo, a Korean orphaned girl, who became the adopted daughter of Boss Hideki under the name Ueno Rie. Her abhorrence for Joseon is her sole motivation to continue living and she vows to destroy the country upon her return. Something about the way Hideki glosses down her arm tells me they’re more than father-daughter. It’s creeeepy!
2. Girl finds refuge at teacher’s place
Oh, looks like our leading girl has a long, painful road ahead of her. After she was brutally tortured by Kang To, and saved by Kang San (under the mask of Gaksital), she wanders around in the woods and slips into a deep sleep due to exhaustion. For how long we don’t know, but the pattering rain drops wakes her up in the middle of the night. She stumbles through the woods and follows the sounds on a piano to Namsam Elementary School, where Shunji once said he’s a teacher there. Before she collapses in his arms, she pleads, “Please hide me.”
And so our kind teacher takes the girl home, wipes her clean of dry blood and dirt. She stirs awake and his eyes widen upon knowing that Kang To, his best friend, did this to her. She stares at him in disbelief, “How can you be friends with the Devil?” Before she can exit the house, Kang To’s booming voice alarms them both and she scurries to hide in the closet.
Shunji nervously sits and then stands in front of the closet, trying to keep up with the conversation as Kang To explains that he’s after this girl with connection to both Dam Sari and Gaksital. He catches on with Shunji’s odd behavior and muses out loud, “Are you hiding a girl in there or something?” Kang To shoves his friend aside and opens the closet….I almost have a heart attack here.
Brilliant move, Mok Dan. What both men gape in surprise is a girl with her bare back to them. Trying to save the girl’s face and his friend’s modesty, Kang To cracks a smile and leaves the apartment with a sly smile. Afterwards, Shunji paces back and forth, not knowing what to do next until Mok Dan steps out from the closet and desires to leave this place. He asks to send her off and she reluctantly agrees. He gives her a ride on his bicycle back to Far East Circus. In the beautiful night, the bike bumps over a rock, causing Mok Dan to hold onto his waist tighter. He smiles shyly at their close contact. And me? Worry about his future heartbreak. gah!
3. Kang To is a violent man
No matter how much I think Kang To is a good person, he still comes off as a violent man. Since Director Kono already puts his title on the line, Kang To makes up his mind to imprison all the men with hands of a martial artist. He leads his men to Joseon marketplace, believing that Gaksital is one of the people here. When no one utters a word of confession, he screams for his men to do the work, beating and vandalizing the place. Conflicted, Kang San watches the violent scene unfolds right before his eyes. Hard scene to swallow.
After what seems like eternity, the potential candidates are lined up on their knees for Kang To’s assessment and he orders them to be sent to jail. When one of the men fights back, Kang To beats the man with his own stick. Rendered useless in this situation, Kang San does the only thing he could do, he jumps behind Kang To and hugs his brother tightly, screaming breathlessly, “Stop! Stop being a bad person Kang To-ah!!”
Kang To, driven by anger, punches and kicks his brother relentlessly, while Kang San turns the other way to bite down his suffering. Mom arrives and slaps Kang To, explaining, “In this chaotic world, it’s hard to think straight. Maybe it’s good that he doesn’t have the capacity to do it! It’s a thousand times better than his brother who is serving for the Japs!” Right there on the spot, she cuts their ties as mother and son.
4. Gaksital to the rescue
True to Kang To’s style, he orders snipers and more policemen to watch the station carefully, knowing full well that Gaksital can’t leave the innocent men in prison for long. Kang San, in his babo state, surveys the police station before he makes his move. He stops outside the torture room and listens with painful revelation that his brother can go to dark places in his pursuit of Gaksital. Kenji spots Kang San at the door and the latter quickly drops the pained expression and returns to his idiotic persona. So AWESOME.
More trouble, the wife of Lee Shi Yong (another Kyungsung member) is having an affair with fellow member and doctor, Woo Byung Joon. While the two do naughty kissing in his office, Gaksital shows up, captures Mr. Woo, and uses him as a hostage, forcing Kang To to release the innocent people held in prison.
On the other hand, Kenji releases Sasaki (the one who was imprisoned by Kang To) and allows him to carry a gun in his quest to kill Kang To.
Kang To arrives at the hospital with the prisoners, and to his shock, Gaksital has Mr. Woo up high in the rooftop. He lets go of the perverted doctor, letting him fall down, inches above the ground. Luckily, the man is roped so he only faints while Gaksital uses this opportunity to escape. Unfortunately, a sniper on the next building successfully puts a bullet into his left thigh, hindering his speed. OMGGGGGGGGGosh!!
Despite his injury, Gaksital loses Kang To on his tail. He could have went home but he chooses to follow and watch over his brother’s safety. When Sasaki tries to aim his gun from the roof of a building, Kang San ruins his plan with a whip. This commotion alerts Kang To and he follows them.
Kang San chases after Sasaki and knocks the man unconscious. He hears sounds from his back and turns around to see Kang To holding a gun and it’s directed at him. Beyond happy, Kang To mutters, “Bingo! You think you can escape this time again? I’ve wanted to kill folks like you, thinking that they’re heroes to the Korean people.” As he says this, he shoots at the ground around Gaksital, reminding the masked hero that he has impeccable aiming skill.
All the while, Kang San pleads in his head, “Kang To-ah, it’s hyung! Hyung!”
The inept Sasaki slowly stirs awake (or was he faking it?) and takes his knife, flinging it directly at Kang To but Kang San, who senses movement behind his back blocks the flying knife with his own body. GAH! Two bloody wounds. Kang To immediately puts a bullet through Sasaki’s head, ending his pathetic life.
Kang To then turns his attention to Gaksital, incredulous, “Did you…just save me? Why? Why? Who are you?” He charges ahead, intend to rip the mask off before a mysterious man, Baek Gun, appears right on time to knock him unconscious. Phew. My heart forgot to beat in this scene.
5. The Past
Baek Gun has the title of Joseon best warrior and used to work under Lee Sun. After he rescues Kang San, he brings “Young Master” back to his place, a little hut, to treat his injuries. During the treatment, he urges Kang San to reveal the truth of their father’s death to Kang To. Kang San shakes his head, believing that once Kang To knows he’s Gaksital, “He will arrest me no matter what.” WHY?!! Why don’t you have a little faith in Kang To! You two are driving me nuts! He became like that because he wants to get you treated in the top hospital! True, he’s steered off the road during the process but with you around, he will turn back for sure! Tell him!
As the two talk, we find out that it was Baek Gun’s idea to have Kang San become an idiot, rendering him free from prison life. Kang San looks at the wall, decorated with the crimes members of Kyungung have committed throughout the years.
The council of evil gathers around to discuss about Gaksital. Mr. Woo nervously reminds everyone that Gaksital is after all of them and assumes that it’s because they betrayed Lee Sun 13 years ago. Flashback: Lee Sun was to escort Emperor Gojong out of confinement ordered by the Japanese, however, once Lee Sun and Baek Gun arrived, the king was killed, marking the big betrayal by the other men.
Unsettled by the scene of Gaksital saving him, Kang To tries to clear his mind with drinks, ladies, and singing. Yet, he’s too preoccupied with Gaksital that he leaves the club. His good friend tells him to cheer up and Kang To throws out a question of irony, “Every Korean out there hates me, as young as 3 years old and as old as 80. When I’m in danger, who do you think would save me?” Without thinking, his friend blurts out, “Your family of course.” The answer hits Kang To square in the head and he drives back home in a rush.
What do you know, Kang San is wrapping his bloody clothing at home, preparing to trash it. Kang To shows up at the door and demands to check Kang San’s arm. GAHHHHHHHHHH!!
Afraid that his cover might be exposed, Kang San turns his acting up several notches, playing the role of an idiotic brother who is traumatized of being beaten up as he screams “Mother! MOTHERRRRR!” Mom comes rushing out and pushes Kang To away, “Kill me instead! Are you happy to see your brother like this? Do you know that every time you work against Koreans, they would take it out on your brother??! He’s taking all the hatred in your place!”
Guilt begins to creep across Kang To’s face and he quickly leaves the suffocating atmosphere, not allowing them to see his angry tears. Mostly at himself.
6. More awesomeness arrives to Joseon
On the order of her adopted father, Boss Hideki, Ueno Rie has finally arrived to Joseon. On the train there, she has an interesting encounter with a reporter Park Sung Ho. He asks to entertain her and she strips him down to nothing in gambling. Outside the station, Kenji stands there nervously, waiting to pick up Boss Hideki’s daughter. Not knowing what she looks like, he orders his minion to arrest her, on the crime of gambling in broad daylight, reported by the grumbling Reporter.
At the police station, Kenji opens up her luggage and sees a photo of her as a singer. He asks her to sing. She stays rigid in her seat. Chief Taro’s booming voice sends everyone scrambling as he glides down the stairs, slaps his son, and bows in respect. Rie finally stands up, approaches Chief Taro, and slaps him across the face, saying, “I’ll tell my dad of your warm welcome.” On her way out, she crushes Kenji’s fingers with her heels for good measure.
Outside, she crosses path with Kang To and seemingly takes in his presence with interest.
7. Mok Dan (Boon) and Kang To’s (Lee Young) back story
Mok Dan, the stubborn girl that she is, returns to the inn where she stayed prior to the capture to retrieve the dagger. Kang To happens to be nearby and runs in immediately the second he notices a flashlight being used. They have a brief fight with him pinning her easily against the wall. The dagger is now in his hand and he scoffs at her ridiculous excuse of putting herself in danger just to get back the dagger. Yet, the instance his eyes glide over the dagger, he freezes. In his head, he ponders, “Why? Why do you have this? I gave it to Boon.” To confirm his assumption, he lifts her hair and recognizes the small bump attached to her ear.
She takes his momentary pause to jump out the window, securing her escape. While he crumples to the floor, thinking back to the fateful day 13 years ago. Boom was with her dead mother and his family kindly took her in. That’s why she addressed him as “Young Master”.
Sadly, the day when they almost crossed the Manchuria border, their family was attacked and this is also the scene we have seen before. After Kang To gave the dagger to Boon so he could lure the bandits away, he was saved by his hyung. When they were set to leave, Kang To insisted to search for Boon. When he turned around, he spotted her in the middle of tall grass with one bandit preparing to chop her head off. Terrified, he twirled around and clenched his eyes. So all these years, while he got a new name (Lee Young –> Kang To), he always thought she was dead. By the way, I WANT THIS SONG!
8. Kang To’s exterior breaks down
After he knows the truth, Kang To tries to shove his inner desire away, explaining to Shunji that he can do it, “If I can catch Gaksital, I can sacrifice her, the girl who I kept dear to my heart all this time.” Hearing this friend’s brutal words, Shunji punches him straight in the face, releasing all his pent-up frustration in the past several days.
Homeless now, Kang To returns to his real home where he scoops in behind his hyung and speaks to a fake-sleeping Kang San.
“Hyung, are you hurt? You can tell me when people beat you up. I’m going to kill those bastards. I remember you. You and Mom… When the bandits were after us. After Father passed away, and all of our workers were killed. I made a promise back then. That I won’t die. That I will find her. I really thought that she was dead. But she was alive. What should I do? But I have to kill her. I don’t want to live like this either. I want to make Mom happy. You never knew did you? I can pay off all our debts. Even when I worked all day…I couldn’t even make enough to afford three meals a day.”
Tears welling up in his eyes and Kang San’s, Kang To places a hand on his hyung for reassurance.
Kang To: “That’s how I paid for your tuition. Because I thought if you graduated from Kyungsung University… our sufferings would end. I don’t have money. I have nothing. No education. The only way for me to make a living is to be loyal to the Japs. I don’t know. I don’t know how else to live. Hyung! Hyung! Speak to me!”
Why are they breaking my heart like this…. T_____T
Next morning, the family has a quiet breakfast fills with tender moments. Kang San busies himself with picking the meat for Kang To, while Mama pushes her bowl of soup towards Kang To’s direction.
He bids goodbye to them on a happy note. However, a knife flies towards his direction and he dodges out of harm’s way quickly. He chases after the person with the mask on. Little does he know, it’s the whole crew from the Far East Circus.
He whips out a gun and chases after them into a crowd. Boss Jo tries to fight him but is easily subdued, so another masked person wearing a hanbok charges at Kang To with a dagger in hand. He shoots at her right in the chest. The masked person falls to the ground and Kang To registers his dagger. He takes off the mask to reveal the person behind it. Mok Dan. He cradles her head near his chest and looks up, aghast.
Alice: Oh my gosh, you know a show is good when you’re crying along with the characters in the first four episodes. Not because of their pitiful lives but how hard they struggle to fulfill their expected roles and provide a proper meal. They go as far as hurting themselves and the people they love all for the chance of living. Thus, it’s true – living is way harder than dying.
I really like the scene in the market place where Kang To beats up his brother because we see his small soft side transforms into an ugly beast. When he turns around to hit Kang San, notice that he immediately throws away his stick. It’s skin-to-skin physical force, reflecting his mentality perfectly. He’s hitting his hyung, but he’s also hurting himself in the process. Next thing you know, anger completely envelops him and he begins to lash out at Kang San without batting an eyelid.