Soldier: Ep 3-10

Drama ReviewsKorean Dramas

Think of the gladiator tournaments.  Think of the medieval times.  Now think of that but in the Korean version, with an ex-monk-now-slave-martial-arts-master as a gladiator contestant.  It is AWESOME.

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Mu Sang abandons his former monk-name and decides to go by his REAL name, Gim Jun.  Now officially a slave, he works grueling hours at a horrible labor camp.  If you’ve seen other sageuks, you should know the drill by now…workers die everyday because of the dangerous work conditions and their harsh taskmasters.  Ironically, their supervisors are also former slaves, however they were able to become soldiers thanks to a certain competition called the gyeokgu…

“That’s how it is, I’m a slave.  This is the life I live now.  I have to survive!  I have to survive!”

Gim Jun adjusts quite quickly to his hard life, and accepts his status as a slave.  At first he turns down the army’s offer to join the gyeokgu team, (on the side of the First Lord, So Yi’s father) but of course he soon finds the determination to survive.  He overcomes his conflict between his strong Buddhist upbringing and his current predicament–He has to choose between killing & survival or not killing and suffering in the labor camp.  Gim Jun is the kind of guy who decides to take control of his own life and at least try to reverse his misfortune.

“By choosing gyeokgu, I might have the chance to live like a man.  Even if now I’m a slave, I know there’s a better way to live my life as a man. “

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Of course, Wol Ah just so happens to work in the household of the First Lord.  This conveniently allows Gim Jun & Wol Ah to meet together a few times here and there.  Wol Ah is against Gim Jun’s joining the gyeokgu team because it’s basically a fight to the death.  Meaning, Gim Jun might not survive.  (Even though we all know he will.)  There’s a really odd relationship between Gim Jun & So Yi, who takes him under her wing since she saved his life once.  She figures she might as well see things through to the end and make sure that her ‘investment’ in her slave will be successful.  It’s practical and a bit confusing at the same time.  We see her treating him with great care (way more than a slave would receive) and you have to wonder…is it just because she took responsibility for him?  Is it something more?  At this point, it’s just her responsibility, but later on down the road, we see it develop into something a bit more.

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The gyeokgu competition is in 3 stages.  There are two teams: Red (First Lord aka Song Yi’s dad and the oldest son of Hapha) and Blue (2nd Lord, aka the younger scheming brother).  The teams are entirely made up of slaves who are participating in hopes of leaving the labor camp and joining the special slave army.  The last winners that survive through the final round get to make one wish.

Obviously Gim Jun does not just want to fight in the gyeokgu for his dignity.  His eyes are set on the goal of surviving the final round so that he can wish that Wol Ah will be released from servitude.  You might think that watching three whole gyeokgu games would get repetitive and boring, but I actually thought that all three were well executed and exciting.

First round:  At first the Blue Team seems to have the advantage, because younger-brother especially recruited and trained bandits.  (Totally cheating)  Gim Jun comes through as the Red Team’s ace and wins the first stage.  The first round was so thrilling and action-packed that I kinda forgot that this was only one out of the three stages.

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After the first round, Gim Jun is so beat up that he can barely stand.  It was pretty sad to see how desperately he insists on participating in the next game.  So Yi, still some sort of fairy godmother to Gim Jun, eventually grants him permission even though she’s quite dubious.

“Compared to living as a lowly slave, I have a bigger desire to be treated as a human being. “

“Though I am a slave, I’m also a real man.”

While So Yi may be Gim Jun’s savior, she’s by no means perfect.  I’m glad they didn’t make her into a cookie cutter character with a heart of gold.  Although she treats Gim Jun quite well, she’s still prejudiced towards slaves.  Gim Jun is the one to change her views and to show her that slaves are not just lowly, dirty beings.

I love So Yi because she’s a woman of action.  She doesn’t just grant him permission to go fight to his death and say “Good luck.”  She actually thinks of all the ways possible to help him win.  Including sending the royal doctor to tend his wounds, giving him expensive medicine, loaning HER DAD’S gyeokgu stick to him.  She is awesome.

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2nd round: They changed things up a bit with the Blue Team strategizing more in the beginning.  The thing that annoyed me was that there was no sign of the Red Team thinking up some sort of strategy.  Obviously the Red Team is at the disadvantage, even with Gim Jun on their side.  I wanted to see some more teamwork and less relying on Gim Jun.

That being said, Gim Jun wins..AGAIN.  The first round was really enough to make Gim Jun into a hero, but the second round is what turns him into some sort of legend.  Gim Jun is just about on the brink of defeat when he suddenly finds the strength to rebound and push through his pain.  I like the parallel between his Buddhist ‘cleansing’ ritual and his breakthrough moment in the gyeokgu game.  It’s great that he hasn’t entirely abandoned his Buddhist beliefs, nor has he forgotten the lessons his masters taught him during his time in the monastery.  Instead of his [formerly] being a monk bringing him down, it gives him the strength to push through.

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3rd round: Gim Jun relies more on teamwork, and on his best friend, which I thought was great.  The last stage was by no means anti-climatic, and I was pretty satisfied with it because it was no longer JUST Gim Jun.

Gim Jun also finally makes his wish..in front of the whole stadium..that he wants Wol Ah to return to Kun Sunim (his master).  So Yi, of course, was expecting him to wish SOMETHING ELSE, at least NOT for some other woman, so her elated expression turns sour.  (or more like shocked)  When I saw the change in her expression, I thought, OHHHHHHH SNAP.  YOU’VE GOT SOME EXPLAINING TO DO, GIM JUN!

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The change in So Yi after Gim Jun’s so called “betrayal” is a bit scary.  To So Yi, it seems that Gim Jun only used her as a means to obtain his goals.  And to make it even worse, he used her to help another woman.  You can’t really blame So Yi because Gim Jun even told her directly that he would win the gyeokgu for her sake.  He gave her the entirely wrong idea even though he didn’t necessarily mean to play with her feelings or imply anything further.  I love the relationship between So Yi & Gim Jun because it’s so much more interesting than the Wol Ah/Gim Jun OTP. 

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While we’re on that subject, let’s just say that I’ve jumped ship from Wol Ah/Gim Jun.  This relationship will just not work out.  (I assume this because Wol Ah is not on the main promo poster of Soldier, HAHA)  Although Wol Ah & Gim Jun really do love each other (They just don’t realize their feelings, of course) they’re no longer the people they once were at the temple.  Gim Jun is a changed man and will most likely change even more now that he’s an army officer.  It hurt to hear Wol Ah ask if she could call him “orabeuni” instead of “Mu Sang”.  But REALLY, Wol Ah?!?!?!?  Gim Jun went against DEATH for you, and you refuse to fulfill his wish?!!?  AUGHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Side characters
I know this is a really long post but I might as well go the extra mile.  The side characters are by no means weak links.  They’re actually what makes Soldier an even more enjoyable drama. 

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The monks.  OMGGGGGGGGGGGG.  Kun Sunim is so depressed and downtrodden after Wol Ah & Mu Sang are taken away from him that it hurts to see him this way. 

“Nobody is born as a slave.  They’re my children.  How can I forget them so easily?  I’m human.  Do you think there’s a father could forget his children?  I can’t forget them and live a happy life!”

He even takes to drinking away his troubles.  :'(  To make it even worse, Kun Sunim can’t come to terms with seeing Mu Sang killing people in the gyeokgu arena.  He’s overcome by how quickly and how much Mu Sang changed.  He pretty much feels like a failure because he treats Mu Sang like his own son. 

There’s also Chun Sim (not sure if I got the name right) who’s still a favorite of mine because I’m a fan of Lee Ha Eun.

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Lee Ha Eun’s character crushes on one of the slave army officials, YANG BAEK.  OMGGGGG.  At first I didn’t understand at all why she liked him but now he’s one of my favorites.  HE’S SO AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  By the way, he was also a slave before he won a former gyeokgu competition.  He and Gim Jun were the only to people to remain standing at the end of the final round.  In other words, Yang Baek is also a legend.  I also like that he’s sort of a mentor to Gim Jun.  Gim Jun seems to look up to him and Yang Baek is also the one who helps prod Gim Jun into fighting for his humanity. 

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Last but not least, the First Lord, So Yi’s dad.  Yet another awesome guy.  He’s your definition of the respectable, righteous older brother.  Unfortunately his scheming younger brother just might become the successor.  I’m on the First Lord’s side 100%.  The scene where Hapha sends him off for the last time was so moving. :'(

Overall
Soldier is a solid drama so far.  I hope it keeps up the momentum even though the gyeokgu games are now over.  It seems like we’ll be getting more into the political parts in the next episodes. 

While I’m quite interested in So Yi & Gim Jun, I realized that the romance doesn’t even really matter to me.  (at least not yet)  Soldier is that kind of drama that doesn’t even need romance to be good.  Like BRAIN.  The characters are more than enough to carry the story.  The side characters are interesting and loveable.  Even the baddies are not just a group of 1D cackling villains.  Soldier is not for people who just want to gaze at pretty boys and squeal over cutesy OTP’s.  Soldier is for those who want a more mature drama that actually addresses some deeper issues at hand.  And by the way, the guys are real MEN in Soldier. 

heisui

I'm heisui, an Asian drama blogger and the creator of My Drama Tea. I love stories and writing, so I watch dramas and blog. I especially have a penchant for Japanese and Chinese dramas, and those hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered. Oh, and I'm Legend of Zhen Huan-obsessed!
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  • You are absolutely right God of War is not for the faint of heart;this drama speaks to the ugliness that exists in humanity’s hearts lust power money…What makes this drama so incredible is the acting(not a weak link in the bunch) and very well written plot line (so far) But I am afraid poor Wol Ah will not see episode 15. Why didn’t that silly kind naive girl go back to the temple? I see ominous storm clouds brewing for her(plus like you said you don’t see her on any of the posters lol) And as episode 11 and 12 come we see not only is Kim Joon a heck of a fighter but he is smart too. But like you said this is not a dram for fans who want to gaze at pretty faces this is a drama with some meat on it’s bones.Love your commentary thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I find your blogs very insightful and entertaining

    • YESSS someone that is watching Soldier!!!!!!!!

      Yes the acting is great, all the characters are wonderful…I could not ask for more. Except I want Wol Ah to just accept Gim Jun’s sacrifice already. I agree Gim Jun is very clever and he’s also educated (from the monastery). I love the scene when he declined the second lord’s offer to join his side. *swoon*

      I’m glad you enjoyed my commentary! Thanks for the comment~~

  • I found certain themes to be quite compelling.

    1. The theme that a Buddhist monk has this great vision to help someone he cares about, and this requires him sacrificing the apparent requirements of being a monk-particularly he has to become a killer. He finds it necessary to become a warrior and it seems that this is leading up to some sort of major leadership position. Is he going to bring peace to the nation and that is his driving ambition? Very powerful Buddhist theme if he breaks out of the monastic mold in order to ultimately help the nation to a better future.

    2. His spiritual mentor-a high ranking abbot slated to be the heir to the head abbot for the entire nation-having his own crisis. He sees his own hypocracy and attachment in full regalia. He doesn’t hide from it and freely admits that he has become a “wine and meat” monk. He appears to be making his own journey to find a more genuine understanding of the Buddhist teachings.

    3. The country’s ruler-who now dying-has come to realize that the “mandate of heaven” is the way to rule a country-implying peace and harmony-not through blind ambition. His eldest son pretty much embodies that spirit, perhaps owing to the training given him by the most revered seon monk in Goryeo.

    4. A brother who through blind ambition manipulates the political process to take power. Since he does so with too much ambition, he doesn’t have the “mandate of heaven” and therefore fails in the end.

    5. Gim Jun who shows so much talent that not only is he recognized by the most revered monk in all of Goryeo, but he is recognized by Song I and by one of her father’s trusted colonels-the one most insightful about people-as a major talent. He is also recognized by Yak Beuk, the other winner of the contest-as a deserving, brilliant, and valiant soldier. He is obviously an upcoming leader. His attraction to the manual of how to rule in a way that promotes peace portends his future as a leader dedicated to peace.

    6. The nuance about decisions of power and of state are wonderful. The younger brother is actually in a tough situation because it’s quite difficult for him to take the power without losing the support of the nation. The older brother is in a tough situation because he is not as maniuplative as he should be early on. But he learns quickly and seems to be a good balance between a good “confucian” boy-fillial, dedicated, loyal and uncorruptable-a good Buddhist-merciful as well as riding the horse of leadership appropriately. There are many people who have great vision about how to gracefully make key decisions by understanding the subtleties of human behaviour as well as the general implications of power-hence they deserve the mandate of heaven. Is Song I going to ultimately be one of those as a power behind the throne? She seems to be torn between her jealousy and incredible magnanimity.

    Great drama. At times I wish that the monks seemed more graceful and natural like real Zen/Seon masters. The translation is a bit difficult at times failing to convey the Korean sensibility into a digestable English form. For example, is the liberal use of the term “brat” the correct implication for whatever the Korean is? Particularly the Buddhist and Taoist implications are a bit strange. Amazingly, the strange soothsayer who has not destroyed his own power is actually chanting in Tibetan and Sanskrit indicating some connection with perhaps Tibetan ritual. Korea had a strong connection with Tibetan Buddhism as well as Cha’an/Zen or as they call it, Seon Buddhism.

    • Hello, per your request I edited your name to anonymous. I hope that’s ok with you.

      Thanks for your lengthy commentary it reminds me of just how complex Soldier is. I ended up discontinuing it but I still hold the drama in high respects because of just how much it managed to accomplish in the character development and the politics plot.

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