After I vented about Seo Hwa last week I got all my frustration about her whiplash characterization out of my system and now I feel so much better about diving back into Gu Family Book. It’s like having a good fight and then moving on rather then letting things build up inside. The drama does dispense with the parents story just like that and with it comes the new chapter in this story. This drama actually has an official English title of Kang Chi, The Beginning but I’ve not taken a liking to that clunky title and Gu Family Book just feels a bit more expansive, like there is a greater world of the mystical book though for this particular story we’re just getting on slice of it through the adventure of Choi Kang Chi. Seeing Lee Seung Gi in his first sageuk role is as satisfying for a fangirl like me as I expected it would be. Whenever Kang Chi shows up I just have a big fat grin on my face. But I know that rush is going to dissipate and pretty soon I’ll need more than a cute smiling puppy face to keep me interested. And truth be told – episode 3 didn’t exactly provide the assurance that this drama is in the hands of a writer that can deliver a compelling narrative. Everything feels so broad-stroked and obvious, both the characterizations and the plot events. There wasn’t anything that was nearly as jarring as Seo Hwa’s personality schism in the second half of episode 2, but I also didn’t see any hints of delicate nuance and subtlety that a really good sageuk always exhibits. I’ve loved truly bad dramas if there is something compelling about it that captures my heart, but so far I’ve not felt the stirrings of any emotion other than mild interest. I can’t really critique Seung Gi’s acting yet, because honestly it feels no different than how he starts off every drama he’s ever done, a combination of energy and his Seung Gi-esque earnest brashness. I can, however, give an initial impression of Suzy. I love that girl, she’s darling to me inside and out, but good lord is she absolutely miscast here. It’s not even acting ability (though all her limitations are glaring) inasmuch as she comes across like a teenage beach girl plopped into a Victorian era mini-series.
Episode 3 recap:
Backtrack to Seo Hwa giving birth alone in the cave. She remembers Wol Ryung asking why she betrayed him when he loved her so much? The baby is born and the blue magical lights swirl around them and float outside, alerting Taoist priest So Jung.
So Jung rushes over and takes care of a numb Seo Hwa and the baby. He reveals to Seo Hwa that he had given Wol Ryung a knife to stab with her which could have saved his immortal soul. Seo Hwa is stunned Wol Ryung didn’t do it, and So Jung gives her the knife with the words that Wol Ryung had told him, that Seo Hwa made his heart beat faster for the first time in a thousand years and he loves her so he cannot kill her to save himself.
Seo Hwa takes the knife and turns into impetuous vengeful Seo Hwa again, but this time the object of her ire is Kwan Woong. She heads to the marketplace and in broad daylight tries to kill him. Cool it with the crazy eyes, Seo Hwa. Honestly, she’s such a gut-reaction type of person it’s no wonder she keeps making stupid judgment calls with dire consequences. She only slashes his face before she’s cut down by his guards.
Seo Hwa dies, and somewhere someone might’ve shed a tear but it’s not me. She does ask that Wol Ryung never forgive her and she will take her sins with her to her grave.
Seo Hwa leaves a note for So Jung asking that her child be raised as a human, and that is the last wish of a cruel mother like her.
So Jung floats the baby down the river (very Moses crossed with Momotaro) and it’s picked up by merchant Park Mu Sol. So Jung arrives and decrees that this baby shall bring Mu Sol luck if he raises him well. Mu Sol looks intrigued, which merchant doesn’t want more good luck.
So Jung places a bracelet on baby Kang Chi like the one he threw on Wol Ryung in episode 1 and tells Mu Sol that he cannot take the bracelet off Kang Chi until the baby turns 20, otherwise the luck will disappear. Mu Sol is doubtful but a gust of wind seems to indicate there is something mystical at play. Another yanban names the baby Kang Chi (from the river).
Time passes and we are told about the fortune of Mu Sol through a village storyteller. Turns out Mu Sol opened an inn called the Hundred Year Inn that became a hustling bustling raging success. Guests come from all over the world to trade in the capital and stay there.
Mu Sol is rich beyond belief which makes him the target of thieves and robbers. We see a poor man trying to steal something to feed his family and when caught, Mu Sol gives him grain to feed his family and start his own plot. The thief thanks Mu Sol profusely. The storyteller says Mu Sol is known far and wide as a truly generous man and he is beloved in this village.
Dam Yeo Wool is standing in the audience listening to the story and she raises her hand to ask about the fate of the baby. The storyteller hesitates……..and the camera pans to the Mu Sol’s servant looking for Kang Chi but not finding him anywhere.
Turns out a bunch of thugs have parked themselves in the inn courtyard demanding to see Kang Chi and wanting payback for Kang Chi beating them up. Mu Sol’s son Park Tae Seo walks out to deal with them.
Kang Chi is currently sneaking into the chambers of Park Chung Jo, Tae Seo’s younger sister, who is getting dressed to meet with the mother of her future groom.
Kang Chi tiptoes into her room but she is well aware of his presence and not frightened. He asks if she wants to marry that guy and Chung Jo says her dad needs it for his political career so she needs to be a filial daughter.
Chung Jo’s mother arrives with the other mother and the maid goes to stall them while Kang Chi sneaks out. Chung Jo’s mother is suspicious Kang Chi was around and reminds Chung Jo not to interact with him since he’s of a low class. Kang Chi overhears and looks sad.
As Kang Chi leaves the courtyard, he runs into Tae Seo and hears about the thugs outside demanding to see him. Kang Chi goes to confront them, ignoring Tae Seo’s advice to send the thugs away because there is an important visitor at the Inn today.
Kang Chi goes out and faces off with the thugs, with the head dude insulting Kang Chi’s bastardly unknown birth which riles him up and he kicks the dude in the belly. Ha, good one, Kang Chi.
Tae Seo tries desperately to defuse the situation and even offers the thugs money to leave. Kang Chi refuses to swallow his pride and uses brute strength to impale a broom on the ground and offers the thugs money if they can remove it. In the end the two sides start brawling then and there.
The brawl moves through the entire Inn and even Chung Jo and the two moms can hear the ruckus. Things go from bad to worse when the fight spills into the very courtyard the ladies are in, with Kang Chi eventually landing in the ladies’ pavilion.
Tae Seo arrives with the Inn bodyguards to subdue the thugs, and Kang Chi calms down when Mu Sol shows up. Mu Sol pays off the thugs who leave while Kang Chi gets on his knees to beg forgiveness. Mu Sol is patient with Kang Chi and knows he only fights for a good reason such as standing up for the downtrodden or righting a wrong.
Nevertheless, he makes Kang Chi kneel in the courtyard to reflect on his errant ways because he’s almost 20 years old and an adult now, so he must control himself because one day he will be helping Tae Seo run the Inn.
Mu Sol’s wife demands that Kang Chi be sent away but Mu Sol reminds her that he’s almost 20 years old now. Flashback to the past when Mu Sol brought the baby home which upset and alarmed his very pregnant wife. She doesn’t want a baby around when they are about to have one of their own, plus this baby has unknown origins.
As they are talking, Mu Sol’s servant takes care of Kang Chi and accidentally hurts his head causing the baby to cry. When Mu Sol picks the baby up, the bracelet falls off and suddenly the bruise heals itself. This freaks everyone out and causes Mu Sol’s wife to go into labor.
As Mu Sol’s wife struggles with childbirth, Mu Sol stands over baby Kang Chi and asks what he is? He ties the bracelet back on which causes a gust of wind to swirl, and suddenly there is a loud scream. Mu Sol rushes out and is told that his wife had a healthy baby boy, and subsequently hears that the ships carrying his goods which was thought to be lost at sea arrived at port. Mu Sol looks stunned and realizes Kang Chi is his good luck charm.
Kang Chi kneels in the courtyard and it’s nighttime already. Chung Jo comes out and gives him an apple to sate his hunger. She knows he caused a commotion on purpose but that won’t stop her marriage. She needs to do it for her dad’s political ambitions and protect her family. Kang Chi says he can protect the family but Chung Jo says brute strength isn’t enough.
Kang Chi asks if she likes him and gives her on the count of three to answer. The first time he counts she doesn’t answer so he counts again, and this time she leans in to kiss him on the cheek. Awwwww. I can ship these two. Chung Jo goes in and tells Kang Chi to come as well, but he sits there touching his cheek and then gets up to jump for joy.
The camera pulls back and we see Chung Jo’s mom has seen this scene. Chung Jo’s mom had recently talked with her husband Mu Sol asking if he’ll do something about Kang Chi before his 20th birthday. They both know he likes Chung Jo, but Mu Sol says it’s nothing since they grew up as brother and sister. Chung Jo’s mom makes a vow to get rid of Kang Chi herself.
Yeo Wool visits a fortune telling halmoni in the village who first says she can’t find a woman since she’s such an effeminate boy, and when Yeo Wool reveals she’s a girl, the fortune teller says she can’t find a man since she’s too manly. LOL.
Yeo Wool plops her head down on the table across from Gon, her boyguard, and bemoans her lack of marital fortune. How could she be more feminine? And is there anything wrong with a woman who can handle a sword?
Taoist priest So Jung sits at the next table and interjects, saying he can see Yeo Wool has a pure spirit. She asks him to tell her fortune and when he looks at her palm, he grows serious and somber. He tells her that she will soon meet the man if her destiny, but he suggests she avoid it using her willpower.
So Jung mentions his “friend” who met someone he was destined to meet but shouldn’t have. He gives Yeo Wool some specifics – the person she will meet will be by the peach blossom tree with a crescent moon beside it.
Mu Sol receives a missive which leads him to anxiously leave the house immediately. It reads Flying Chao Has Landed in the Province.
Tae Seo tries to tame Kang Chi by forcing him to review the account books of the Inn as penance for the trouble he caused and the money Mu Sol paid to get rid of the thugs. Poor Kang Chi hits the table in frustration after Tae Seo leaves and breaks it with his strength.
Chung Jo’s maid gives Kang Chi from Chung Jo asking to meet tonight outside the village, but we see that the maid is acting under order of Chung Jo’s mom.
Turns out Mu Sol is meeting with formerly famed gumiho hunter Pyung Joon, who appears to be running a martial arts training facility now. Tae Seo talks with his dad’s right hand man and both note that it’s been oddly too quiet around the Inn today. Tae Seo goes to check on Kang Chi and finds him long gone.
Kang Chi goes to meet Chung Jo in the outskirts of the village and finds himself faced with an irate lady of the house. She rages at Kang Chi for overstepping himself and daring to have feelings for her daughter. Kang Chi believes his feelings are sincere and true even if he’s a man who doesn’t know his origins. Chung Jo’s mom is furious and calls the Inn guards.
Pyung Joon and Mu Sol discuss the growing power and wealth of corrupt official Kwan Woong, who is headed for their village. Along his path there have been numerous unsolved murders while his reach continues to grow. Pyung Joon warns Mu Sol that his Inn is likely Kwan Woong’s next target.
Chung Jo’s mom orders Kang Chi to leave the Inn or she’ll have him tossed out. Kang Chi won’t since the Inn is his home and family. She orders the guards to capture Kang Chi and throw him out of town. The guards hesitate but she believes her husband will support her decision since he will also be outraged that Kang Chi dares to like Chung Jo.
Kang Chi is tied up but he easily breaks free of the guards and tries to chase after Chung Jo’s mom to talk with her more.
Yeo Wool and Gon are in the woods tracking Kwan Woong’s posse and get read to head back home to report to her dad Pyung Joon. Yeo Wool is still thinking about So Jung’s words and warning and Gon asks her to forget about it. They hear a noise and split up to go investigate.
Kang Chi is chased by the Inn guards and he’s too strong for them to subdue. They play dirty and toss some powder in his face which doesn’t knock him out completely but he’s less alert. They are almost to capture him when Yeo Wool drops in on the party. She’s too righteous to stand aside watching them attack a weapon-less man. She starts to fight the Inn guards and Gon arrives to back her up.
Yeo Wool grabs Kang Chi and they run off while one guard chases after them as the rest fight Gon. As they run through the woods, a branch pulls of Yeo Wool’s hat and her bun comes loose.
The guard catches up to them and is about to get the upperhand on Yeo Wool when Kang Chi uses his remaining strength to flip the guard’s sword around and stab him with it.
In his delirious state he thinks Yeo Wool is Chung Jo and lightly caresses her face while promising that he, Choi Kang Chi, will always protect her. Yeo Wool stands there staring at him and then Kang Chi faints on her shoulder.
She looks past him and sees the peach blossom tree with a crescent moon on it.
Thoughts of Mine:
I really really want to love GFB. I want to love the drama story, and also love the acting of leads Lee Seung Gi and Suzy as much as I love them outside this project. But hope and desire sometimes isn’t enough, much like going on a date where everything seems perfect on paper only to acknowledge there is no chemistry. I actually think Suzy and Seung Gi will have chemistry rather than being flat like a wet blanket, but here I think Suzy’s complete and undeniable modern aura and flat dialogue delivery is going to be jarring to a certain degree that chemistry might not be enough the smooth out the awkwardness. This story is already written in such clunky broad strokes without a single instance of thoughtful character development to be seen, if an actor or actress can’t put more into it, then it’s going to be hard to make lemonade out of lemons. Lest anyone thinks I want to rag on Suzy and not give her a chance, I’ll bet money now she’s not going to actually get any better. What might happen is we’ll all just get used to her and accept her performance at face value. Funnily enough, a similar situation happened to Chun Jung Myung in The Duo, where he was very miscast and I discovered PIE’s ability to act apparently doesn’t extend to being believable in sageuks. He just never got comfortable with the cadence of the genre.
I remain wholly unimpressed with the writing, a hodge podge mish-mash of fantasy elements lifted from notable folk tales or other works, but thrown together and presented without any originality or sophistication. This narrative follows the See Spot Run methodology, stringing together a viewer’s journey by laying out obvious markers on the ground. As the viewer I don’t want to be looking down and led on my merry way to the finish line, I want the journey to enrich my drama world so that it’s worth the time spent with it. Otherwise I might as well come back after the 24th episode and ask how this drama ended. Sometimes a bus ride is worth it even if the scenery whizzes by out the window and I do have a goal in mind. I feel like GFB is like someone trying to give me their idea of what to do, blindfolding me from point to point and only letting me see a pre-selected view. If I were to take off the blind fold between those points of things happening, this drama gives me the impression that there is nothing in between. A good story needs to give the viewer the feeling that the world is filled in, there are in between things going on only that we happen to not see it. I think this drama might be watchable with the brain turned off, low expectations, and a general contentment with the pretty visuals and manufactured angst. Will I keep watching or even recapping? No decisions yet but I’m taking it one episode at a time.