At the start of "Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People" Gil-dong (played by Yoon Kyun-sang) has rather made a mess of things. The specifics of how he got to that point are as yet unclear but long story short the Korean army is busting down his doorstep and Gil-dong is such an annoyance that King Yeonsangun himself (played by Kim Ji-suk in person) appears to berate the folk hero in person. From there, it's time for flashback mode as we see how the situation managed to escalate.
That means going way back to childhood, where Gil-dong is...actually not particularly heroic or anything. He's just a normal child who is abnormally strong. Emphasis on normal. In contrast to the typical costume drama and its focus on nobles and royalty, "Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People" explicitly shares its sympathies with the common laborers and slaves who do all the work and don't get to wear gaudy clothes. For the most part their lives are happy, until inevitably they anger a merciless member of the landed class.
I decided to write about "Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People" because the explicit class demarcation is very unusual for South Korean historical dramas. Exposés of the corrupt political system are nothing new- powerful people make the best villains after all. But by the end, faith in the system is inevitably restored because the hero or their allies have proper rank and are able to work within the system to promote change, or at least wipe out the bad guy causing all the problems.
By contrast, the only sympathetic characters we see here are the powerless. This explains the why Gil-dong going from a pouty little kid to a revolutionary hero, so the main question remaining is how. Gil-dong's personality is not especially heroic. He mumbles and has little self-confidence. It never even occurs to the tyke that he may be unusual in any way, which is where all his troubles begin.
It certainly helps that the production team itself consists of clear underdogs. Most of the cast and crew are of demonstrable talent, yet have had only fleeting opportunity when it comes to a breakout role. Class consciousness issues notwithstanding, "Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People" is the kind of drama where we're expected to take a side rather than ruminate over moral ambiguities. In the current political climate, that kind of calling a spade a spade is a most welcome change.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People" Episode 1"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Solomon's Perjury" Episode 11
The penultimate episode of "Solomon's Perjury" brings a sense of deflation, because it reminds us ,...More
[Hot Takes from the Noonas] "Introvert Boss" takes a break to get a reboot
After only two weeks on the air, "Introvert Boss" is taking time out for rewrites and a brand new ,...More
Lee Dong-hwi, Kim Dong-wook, Lee Ho-won to star in new MBC drama "Radiant Office"
Actors Lee Dong-hwi, Kim Dong-wook and Lee Ho-won (Infinite Lee Ho-won) are starring in "Radiant O,...More
Subscribe to HanCinema Pure to remove ads from the website (not for episode and movie videos) for US$0.99 monthly or US$7.99 yearly (you can cancel anytime). The first step is to be a member, please click here : Sign up, then a subscribe button will show up.