Song of the Bandits review: A gripping Kdrama Western

Song of the Bandits follows the uprising of bandits, freedom fighters, and people from different walks of life against the Japanese colonial rule in 1920’s Gando. The series is currently streaming on Netflix.

Story

In the 1920’s Gyeongseong, Japan took over as Imperial colonialists. However, further north is a different story as Gando is house to many Korean civilians and Independence fighters who fled there during earlier battles.

Lee Yoon, a former slave and a Unit Leader in the Japanese army, defies his master Lee Gwang-Il, aka Miura Shohei, and heads off to Gando for repentance. His quest to repent is to die at the hands of Choi Choong-Soo, the former general of the Righteous Army.

However, Choong-Soo spares him and tells him to live with that guilt. He also accepts him when Yoon saves one of his people from a brutal bandit, killing the notorious figure and all his men in the process. Yoon and Choong-Soo gather other men like them and form a ragtag team of bandits.

As railroad construction funds are to be taken to Gando by train, many parties converge to get their hands on the money, including bandit Ki-Ryong’s crew, Gwang-Il’s divisional army, and his fiance√© Hee-Shin, who works for the Independence Army.

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Hee-Shin, thanks to fearless killer-for-hire Eon-Nyeoni, secures the funds and is later saved by Yoon, who escorts her to safety until she meets her fellow Independence army compatriots. He also loves her and she eventually recognizes who he is.

Gwang-Il tries again and again and fails to get his hands on the funds, ultimately getting injured but spared by Yoon.

Choong-Soo and the bandits successfully elude Ki-Ryong’s crew and escape to safety, as the Japanese army cooks a cruel campaign to destroy all resistance, as Song of the Bandits rolls the credits.

Performances

Kim Nam-Gil plays Lee Yoon, the weathered former soldier working for the cruel Japanese army who is now a man constantly tortured by the guilt of his own actions.

He renders a ghastly portrait of a man haunted by his inadvertent contributions to the suffering of his own countrymen. He also is a really charming man and a leader and Nam-Gil sells all these features quite remarkably.

Seohyun plays Nam Hee-Shin and her portrayal is similarly remarkable in that her pain and her brave convictions are all so believable and moving that one can’t help but feel anxious for the fate of her character as she navigates an Imperial landscape.

Yoo Jae-Myung is Choi Choong-Soo and his leadership roles and the aura of a constant guardian are the easiest to believe, thanks to the veteran’s talents and ease in front of the camera. He also contributes to some of the most moving tear-jerkers in the show.

Lee Hyun-Wook plays Lee Gwang-Il with commendable conviction as he wears his character’s antagonism on his face. There are moments where his character is given more dimensions to work with and he gives the material full justice.

Lee Ho-Jung plays perhaps the most daring, formidable, and alive character in all Song of the Bandits. She expresses her athletic performance just as well as she does with her face and expressions, portraying wonderfully yet another character who is wracked with pain and longing.

Positives

The characters are beautifully written and rendered. It would be near impossible for one to not root for the characters given the real historical context behind the story as well as the impeccable performances.

It’s the story that also works greatly and executes a Western with authentic flairs and the emotional depth of its Eastern sentimentalities.

What lends greatly to the authenticity and makes this Western and Kdrama mixture believable is also the production which deserves recognition and all the praise. With so many different settings and locations, the show doesn’t falter with its production level.

It also works tremendously well as a romance epic as the wistful and melancholic story of Yoon and Hee-Shin’s love navigates a minefield of difficulties and impossibilities.

Negatives

There are times when the stylized elements of a Western rob the story of its more grounded elements and the emotional weight seems to dissipate.

The song choices are questionable at best with its largely modern pop tracks that may take one out of the story and settings. However, Song of the Bandits does make these songs work in a few instances.

Verdict

Song of the Bandits is a valiant effort at delivering a new kind of catharsis for Korean sentiments regarding a deeply painful part of their history, with a daring combination of the Western genre and Korean dramatic storytelling.

With remarkable performances, impeccable production, and good writing, the show not only makes the mixture work but does it with flying colors.

Song of the Bandits
Song of the Bandits review: A gripping Kdrama Western 1

Director: Hwang Jun-Hyuk

Date Created: 2023-09-22 12:30

Editor's Rating:
4

Also Read: Song of the Bandits summary and ending explained