Tag Archives: sageuk

Chuno: Is Daegil a likable character? – Contains spoilers

I only started my Chuno rewatch and I’m already overwhelmed with feelings and thoughts. This time around I am paying attention to all the stories and guess what? I’m not feeling compelled to fast forward at all! The interesting thing is, the more I like the secondaries, the more sense the main character’s journey makes to me and for some reason it makes me love Daegil (my initial reason for watching and rewatching) even more! I didn’t know this would be possible! I guess Daegil in context, is a better Daegil (to me)

I will try to touch on every character and plot on following posts, but now I wanted to capture and interesting exchange that took place on the comments section of my previous post. Reading the conversation in the comments has turned daunting so I decided to make it a post

The topic more or less is the following: “Is Daegil a likable character”?

First, let me tell you about my favorite Daegil. Since I watched ep1 recently, I found that the first Daegil we meet, the half naked, shmexy devil, the one with the killer swagger and panther gaze…

This one


Call me crazy! But this is not the Daegil that made me fall in love. Sure, he makes me swoon! I mean did you look at him?


But, my favorite Daegil is not that one, not even the one whose eyes light up with hope when he thinks he is close to finding Unnyun (although this one starts melting my cold cold heart!)




My favorite Daegil is the one that loves deeply, not just a woman, but his friends, his family. The one that cries in the middle of the street, like a wounded animal, or like a lost child, not just for a woman, but for the whole purpose of his life being destroyed, and still lets her go, because he prefers her happiness to his.


My favorite Daegil is the one who cries like this for his love


And his friends…

The man who was almost driven to madness when he thought he lost General Choi and Wangson, and who thought of securing their future before his, the man who cried for Cheon Ji Ho, until his tears dried up. Yup! Call me crazy but all of that makes me love him in spite of his tremendous flaws (and there is also the man who once wanted to change the world for the love of a woman, who lost everything but found a way to survive, who lost his faith but gained it back, etc etc).


My favorite Daegil is the one who smiles like this

But not everyone shares this view. There are other interpretations of Daegil and that is quite fascinating to me. I think only a character so full of layers and so well interpreted can provoke so many different reactions. He almost feels real! So let me share some of the views that were presented in the comments of my previous post and then if you feel compelled to participate in the discussion please answer in the comments below. What do you think or feel about Daegil? Is he likable, is he horrible, does he scare you or do you love him?

It was DDee who prompted various responses with the following question:
“Please tell me Daegil gets redeemed though, right? Coz I dunno how long I can deal with him being…nasty”.

Let’s keep in mind that DDee has not finished watching Chuno yet but I’d say she is advanced enough, so I can venture to guess that while her impression might vary slightly after the end, Chuno has not been the most “pleasant” journey for her. But she is sticking with it like a pro! lol! Thanks DDee

I won’t repeat my answer which basically could be summarized with what I say above but I did remember feeling something similar about Daegil on my first watch, so part of me understands DDee (except I became fascinated by Daegil at some point).

However, here are some very interesting and eloquent answers. They are all different, some opposite, and strangely, I agree with everyone:

Georgia: (Three comments edited into one)
I remember thinking that Dae-gil was an utterly despicable person (and loving the show for making the main character a villain), until he said one little frase that just exploded in my head, I’m not going to spoil.

He descents deep into the darkness and we get to follow every step.

The first time, when I had no idea how it was going to end, I did think he was one horrible person. My heart was bleeding like a slaughtered pig for him while I felt the strongest resentment possible at the same time, because that is the power of this series. It was not the haggling, the roughness and the cursing (these were great character traits, I loved those), it was more the casual killing of random extras that happened to get in his way. And the slave hunting did result in much suffering, at least one of the people that he returned was beaten to death. Besides, the fact that he detests what he’s become is clear at times and because, thanks to Mr Jang Hyuk’s amazing performance, we all feel EXACTLY what he’s feeling in every detail (I have to say, I felt played like a musical instrument) we have to detest him too, there’s no helping it.

Loving the Dae-gil character is by no means an easy task and no dance on roses. Unless they are some kind of really thorny roses. Ep 15 is the hardest for me to watch and there are not enough hugs or chocolate in this world to make me feel better afterwards. Only the rest of the story can do that. The slap was bad enough, but then, when he very slowly leans into Seol-hwa and whispers ”go”, my soul just froze to burning ice and my mind shrank away in horror. I couldn’t bear to witness that. He was not human at that moment. He consciously decided to shed his humanity and step into the netherworld, because that was the only way to avenge his brothers I guess, and we get to freaking go through that too!
I feel like spoiled meat now, just from typing this.


You know? I could never understand how some viewers saw Dae-Gil as “utterly despicable” (some called him a monster). Sure, he was foul-mouthed, hard, and haggled over the money due him for returning slaves. But! His actions (and his EYES) consistently belied what came out of his mouth. Especially after what he does with the mother/daughter slaves early in the series. I remember my surprise at that scene and joy for what it meant for his character. And, yes, his descents into darkness were heartbreaking. As equally heartbreaking as his redemption. The production team, writers, everybody are to be cherished always for making it so compelling to watch.

Gumi (in direct response to DDee’s comment about Daegil vow of revenge)

Daegil never showed intention to hurt Unnyun, and it was pretty obvious even from Ep1 that Daegil never ever intended to take a revenge on Unnyun. It was pretty obvious for me from Ep 1 but some people did think he wanted revenge, but by ep 10 it was pretty clear that revenge was absolutely not his emotional motive. **SPOILER** In Ep 10, the first word he says after finding out Unnyun is married to Song Taeha (well she’s not but he’s told that) is ‘You foolish girl, why Song Taeha? Out of all the people you could choose, why a runaway slave…?’ After learning that a girl he chased for ten years is alive and happily (well at least that’s what he’s told) married to another guy, the first response he shows is not anger, it’s concern. He is not mad that she is married to another guy, he is concerned that she is married to a runaway slave. He is not even mad at it being Song Taeha his nemesis. At that point his immediate concern is him being a runaway slave, cuz that means Unnyun’s life will be harder. ‘You ran away from being a slave, then u should at least live peacefully as a yangban, why do you marry a runaway slave and make your life dangerous…?’ That’s what his teary eyes are quietly asking, that’s his first emotional response and most honest to his own heart, before he starts yelling in pain and anger. It was clear at that point that in Daegil’s mind, really Unnyun’s happiness is on the top priority. There was a debate online during Chuno broadcast on whether Daegil’s emotion toward Unnyun is love or hatred or love&hatred, and after that episode pretty much everyone agreed that it was love, or maybe love and hatred but hatred<<<<<<<<<<<LOVE.

Zhaoul I agree Daegil’s intention was never revenge. This is one of the big reason’s I love Daegil so much; he is as selfless as humanly possible. He’s not only selfless when it comes to Unnyun, but also with his friends. No matter what Daegil says out loud, he cannot hide the true, pure intentions of his heart. He’s in inner turmoil, but he puts his love before him and cares more about her well being and safety than his own. **Spoiler** This also becomes crystal clear when his “bros” find out he paid for their land in full and that only some money was left owed on his own property. Omg Daegil…. I dunno if I’ll survive your re-watch DF, I’m ready to cry already.


I never disliked Daegil nor thought of him as bad/inhuman, as imperfect as he was. Part of it is the storytelling, coz we get access into Daegil’s context. We see where he came from, why he might’ve become so hardened on the outside. Another big part of it is Jang Hyuk’s delivery. I agree with several other comments that his eyes belied his true feelings where his words and actions were harsh. With the benefit of hindsight, his good intentions and care for his friends became clear, if they hadn’t been clear before.

One thing was clear to me though (aside from his hotness, ha), and that is, up till the point he actually found Unnyun & realized she was marrying someone else, there was hope in his eyes. Despite the words that he might have spoken, about revenge etc, he was a man fueled by hope. It was when that hope was snuffed out that Daegil had to wrestle with himself, to find a reason to keep on living and moving forward. He eventually found it, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that, to remain as spoiler-free as possible.

Another point that I feel is worth taking into consideration, is that we live in very different times than Daegil. Which means that we can’t quite judge him based on our modern yardstick. Someone commented that Daegil’s killing of people made him inhuman. While I wouldn’t say I condone killing people, I can’t say it makes him inhuman. Daegil was a man who fought on the streets to make a living, in a manner of speaking, and that was his environment. In that context, people get hurt/killed along the way. It’s a sageuk norm, if I think about it. Given this context, I find it more telling, that Daegil goes out of his way to empower on the sly, slaves that have been returned to their masters. And it’s clear that he did that on multiple occasions too, since Mt Worak was full of ex-slaves whom he’d sent there.

In the end, Chuno is much more than a story of just one man. There are bigger issues that get the spotlight. But as far as Daegil goes, he is portrayed as one uniquely positioned (an educated slave hunter), imperfect man, who has to wrestle hard – with himself, with his ideals, with the norms & limitations of the world around him – in order to arrive at a place of peace, where his actions could finally be aligned with his beliefs.

Thoughts on ‘Sageuk (historical drama)’

So there was this discussion going on my twitter timeline, and I got frustrated with twitter 140 character limit. So here it goes. About ‘Sageuk’



What it literally means: It literally means ‘historical drama.’ ‘Sa’ for history, ‘geuk’ for drama.

How it is actually used: Basically, you see a K-drama and guys have long hair, and people are wearing somewhat colorful clothes, and people wield swords around, and people die a lot, and there’s class difference, and…ok I’ll stop.

Anything ancient-ish looking is called sageuk in K-drama world these days.

DF mentioned she’s reading stuffs about historical fiction, period drama, costume drama, etc. But they are all called sageuk, lol. I hate it, but that’s how people use the term, and language follows the way people use whether you like it or not. So I guess I’ll have to just accept the fact that they are just allll called sageuk, and will stick to how the terms are actually used not what the terms originally should mean.

Does sageuk have to be historically accurate?

Now that’s a realm of discussion. And my position is that, it does not have to be a documentary, but it has to respect history, and has to do its best not to distort what is known as historical facts. And yes, I am including those historical fictions, fusion sageuk, whatever they are called, they should also respect history if they want to put their characters in existing historical time period or use existing historical figure. When I’m saying ‘respect history’, I don’t mean everything should be exact and accurate as the history went. Things can be added, reinterpreted, changed, it’s a drama! Make it fun! When I say distort the history, I mean those very apparently ‘wrong’ things that denies what is known as history. It’s not like a sageuk police will appear and arrest them if they distort history, but take the criticisms that it’s a  ‘poorly made historical drama’.

Why Sageuks should ‘Respect History’

I’m not trying to say that sageuks should be entirely accurate, entirely based on what actually happened. If I wanted to watch that, I’d watch a documentary not a sageuk.

But the moment you chose your drama to be a ‘historical drama’, there’s a responsibility for you to make it as accurate as it is needed in your drama. Because by using the name of existing historical figure, you take the image of that existing figure. It is a very hard job to build a character from scratch, make that character interesting. But when you take an existing famous historical figure, you get it easily. You get that effect, then you carry the responsibility too. You can’t just swallow the sweet and and spit out the bitter.

For example, you say you want to write a drama. The main character is going to be, I don’t know, say Kim Oksoon. It is going to be about her life and love. Is anybody gonna be interested? Who cares about Kim OkSoon? Who the hell is she? You will need some long explanation.

But say you are gonna write about Queen Sundeok, her life and love (no offense intended at all, I loved that drama). It immediately attracts attention. All Koreans know who Queen Sundeok is, she’s in textbook, you’ve heard about her since young, seen her and memorized her for exams, and you get curious how she will be portrayed as a living person.

Writers may still be able to attract people’s attention with non-historical figures, and that’s actually what many many sageuk dramas are doing. Lee Daegil in Chuno wasn’t a historical figure, and he still is amazing as hell. But my point is that, when the writer chooses a  historical figure to be the drama’s character, there’s certain effect he earns from it. Like, when you hear the name Yi Bang Won, and you immediately think of the cold, ruthless, ambitious, strong ruler, and you don’t even need any character explanation to just feel the image.

And these ‘effects’ can be earned because there’s a common background knowledge about the history that people share. So, can you really blame them for getting mad when historical facts are distorted? You can’t. Certain expectation is formed the moment existing historical figure is mentioned in the drama, and it is more than natural to be mad if that expectation is betrayed.

And you can’t say you don’t really earn anything from using historical figure. Becuz if that’s the case, there’s a simple solution: don’t use a historical figure. Create your own fictional character. That’s what Moon Embraces Sun did, it just had an imaginary king as the main character. By having an era of imaginary king as its time period, it made all of its characters entirely fictional, all of its events entirely fictional. I had a lot of criticisms to make about that drama, but never did I criticize it for being inaccurate or not respecting the history–cuz it never claimed to be a history. But when you decide to use a historical figure, there is some effect you are trying to earn from it. Whether it be the dramatic nature of his story, or certain image the figure has, or the freshness of presenting opposite interpretation of existing interpretation, something inspired you to choose that character. So you should be ready to take the consequences of using a character that is not entirely your creation but is borrowing from what is already existing. What I wrote about taking a ‘historical figure’ can also apply to ‘historical time incident’ or ‘historical time period’. When you put the setting as Chosun, there’s some effects you are earning from it, and there’s some expectations audience have toward it. Try your best to meet the historical expectations.

I would say, as I was writing this up, I realized a lot of what I just wrote would probably only apply to Koreans who know the history. To people to whom those names don’t really ring a bell, historical figures would just feel like another character. So foreign fans might not be as sensitive to sageuks distorting history. And I respect that. There are some horrible sageuks out there that utterly destroyed history and I hate them for that, but I never disrespected fans of the drama cuz no one ‘has’ to feel certain way about a drama. After all, it’s a form of entertainment. And ‘respecting history’ is not a duty for drama producers written in some code of drama, and all I’m saying is that if they fail to do so they would have to be prepared to deal with the criticisms and hatred. And hopefully the fans of the dramas would also understand and not hate haters for hating the drama, cuz even if you are not bothered by the historical distortions, others may be, and the moment actual historical figure/system/incident/period is discussed, audience hold all the right to form expectations towards it.

‘Chill, it’s just a drama, it’s fictional! Why do you care?’ –Don’t we all care?

In case some of you are still wondering why this ‘accuracy’ matters at all, let me point this out. We all care about accuracy in dramas. It’s not even like only harsh standards are applied to sageuks. Any dramas are expected to be reasonably ‘realistic’, right? They are expected to be as accurate to the reality as it is allowed in your drama frame.  And writers are expected to study enough to make the drama reasonably realistic. Medical dramas, legal dramas, police dramas….people criticize them if they are too unreal, if there are some factually wrong stuffs about them. So why should historical drama be an exception? Sageuks are free from ‘reality’ of current society. There are doctors out there to point out medical dramas being unrealistic, lawyers to point out legal dramas being unrealistic, and just…people, to point out a drama about people being unrealistic. ‘That’s not true, that’s not done that way!’ Drama is fictional, it is not real anyway, it’s just a drama, but people expect reasonable reality from it. And in sageuk’s case, no one lived the past to tell whether the drama is realistic, but ‘history’ is that standard. People expect it to  be reasonably in accord with history.

What sageuks can do to make it fun

As I have repeatedly said, when I say respect the history blahblahblah, I don’t mean film a documentary. Sageuks really don’t have to be from a textbook, and my fav sageuks are definitely not visualized textbook..! Here are some stuffs that a well written sageuk can do.

Write on the margin

Who says sageuks have to be about recorded people, recorded incidents? Something or someone totally fictional can still be in accord with history, be very historically reasonable. Just write on the margin of the history, tell the story of the untold, and make it believable that something like this ‘could’ have happened. Chuno would be a very good example of this. It’s copy was “Unrecorded history of Chosun’s greatest slave hunting”, if I remember correctly. Chuno is an entirely fictional drama. Lee Daegil, Song Taeha, Unnyun, Hwang Chulwoong, Eopbok…none of them actually existed. But no one accuse Chuno of distorting the history. It makes it so believable. Characters talk and act like they would in that era. Something like that could’ve happened. Slavery indeed existed, numbers of slaves indeed increased during that time, and something like slave hunting def would’ve happened. And the few characters that were actually recorded in the history, like the king or crown prince, were actually portrayed pretty accurately.

Interpretation, or Reinterpretation

Who says using an existing historical figure, you can’t do fun creations? Sageuk is a process of making those text records into alive human beings, and there’s a lot of fun stuffs you can do in that process. King Sejong is prob the most famous historical figure in Korea, everybody loves and respects him. But I’d say no one imagined him swearing sh*ts as he did in The Tree with Deep Roots. It was a fresh King Sejong, unexpected, and it was fun. And it’s not a distortion…cuz who knows how he actually was? He might’ve actually been a dirty mouth!

In JDJ, Yi Bang Won was portrayed as a premature, proud and also kind of naive young man in the beginning. It was different from prevalent image if Yi Bang Won, and some people felt ‘it’s not right’, ‘it’s not YBW’. But the script and the actor made it convincing enough, and audience enjoyed new YBW. There was still no apparent ‘distortion’. Actual deeds he did was still the same as known in history. But sageuks can still build different human beings from that same record.

Destroy the frame!…only within a frame!

I’ve been talking about respecting the history, not destroying the frame, etc. but now I’ll say….it IS ok to destroy a frame. If you make it clear that it is deliberately done, and there’s enough reason for you to do that, and that is the point you want to make, and you keep others in frame. Because, after all, fiction is a deliberate distortion of reality, and although you should try your best to make it accurate and realistic, you should be able to do whatever you want to do to make the point of the story.

For example, Tree with Deep Roots start with a serial killing within a palace. That didn’t happen in the history. If it did, it would’ve been recorded, but it is not recorded. So it’s fake. So, does that mean it’s a poorly made sageuk…? I wouldn’t say so (I have some other problems with Tree with Deep Roots, but that’s not the point here). It’s not the matter of the logic of the drama, it’s about the premise about the drama, and I believe dramas, or any fictions, should be allowed some crazy premises. It’s like, Kafka’s <The Metamorphosis>. You turn into a bug, jesus. That’s soooooooooo fake. But I wouldn’t say it sucks becuz it lacks reality. Turning into a bug is his crazy premise, and after accepting that one premise, the rest of the portrayal of society or people should remain pretty ‘realistic’.

Sageuks can be as crazy as possible, if it is super clear that that’s their intention, that’s the whole point they are making this drama. Like, Gu Family’s Book, the protagonist is half blood between a human and…what’s that….a wolf? a god? whatever that sexy thing is. I don’t think that ‘unrealistic’ part of the plot destroys the drama. Cuz that’s the whole point, and it made it clear that it’s a fantasy drama.

Anyways, this post became wayyyyyy much longer than I intended to, and I’m getting sleepy, so I’ll wrap up doing what I originally intended to do. Explaining some terms of sub-categories of sageuks. It’s not super correct, I’m not a sageuk-term expert or anything, it’s just how I understand those terms. Please correct me if there’s anything wrong.

Taeha sageuk 대하 사극

what it originally means: large scale historical drama

how it is taken in K drama land these days: ‘more historical’ dramas. Usually broadcasted in KBS1 channel. has the image of being more heavy, strict, less fun and more accurate. –>NOT TRUE. It can be fun, extremely intruiging, and it can also be horribly distorting and impressively ridiculous.

Periodical drama 시대극(shidae-geuk)

what it originally means: dramas taking place in certain period. Dramas not necessarily about recorded history events but have time setting in ancient period should originally fall under this category…but those are just all called sageuk.

how it is taken in K drama land these days: the word shidaegeuk is used for dramas with time setting that is not current days, is back in the old days, but not as quite old as Chosun dynasty or before.

Fusion Sageuk

what it originally means: anything other than ‘traditional sageuk’

how it is taken in K drama land these days: sageuks that don’t have to care about history at all…personally disagree to this, and my argument is what I’ve been writing all along.

examples of fusion sageuk: Damo, Chuno, Dae Jang Geum, Tree with Deep Roots, Gu Family Book, Tamra the Love Island, Queen Sundeok, etc. Probably just about every sageuk that international fans have watched.

fusion sageuks can be divided once again into smaller sub categories i guess…like, romance sageuk, fantasy sageuk, etc. and a drama can fall under multiple genres too. like, action fantasy romance sageuk.

Traditional Sageuk

What it originally means: The term was born due to emergence of fusion sageuk..but yeah traditional sageuk means how sageuks used to be before those fusion sageuks. Usually stick to important incidents recorded in history, all the important characters are historically recorded characters, in most cases kings, generals, or famous officials, etc.

how it is taken in k drama land these days: similar to taeha sageuk…boring, heavy, ahjussis watch it…JDJ is kind of changing that thought these days though.


Anyways, yeah this post got way too long and I don’t even know who I’m writing this for lol. In conclusion, I like sageuks. (lame conclusion, just like those I had to write in highschool 10 min before the essay due)


Short and spoiler free reviews – Part 1

Jang Hyuk is Ddolbok

Jang Hyuk shows his wide range as an actor in The Tree with Deep Roots

Hi: I decided to write these short reviews as a guide to anyone who is currently “discovering” Jang Hyuk. Of course, everyone’s taste is different but I hope this is helpful to someone. These are only highlights of feelings and impressions that stuck but for more detailed reviews I will need to re watch. In the meantime, here we go with the first group of series.

Click to read short reviews for Into The Sunlight, Daemang, Chuno and The Tree With Deep Roots