Putting Gaksital to rest…

It was so much fun rewatching Gaksital. And surprisingly tense! Even knowing what was about to happen barely lessened the power of the cliff-hangers. happy photo ScreenShot2013-04-16at24442PM_zps4058db83.pngAnd it made me appreciate how well-woven the story was. Character choices were well foreshadowed. So well, in fact, that there was almost a sense of inevitability to the paths chosen — tragic or heroic.

I’ve already done an official review — so this is going to be a spoiler-filled, reaction post. (Also — be sure to check out Kfangirl’s epic review. It’s like a rewatch in word-form.)

Spoilers below…

I watched this with my husband (first time for him) and he really, really enjoyed it. (We had much later nights due to Gaksital; you cannot watch just one episode.) Something that surprised me was he was able to predict the outcome of Kang-to’s and Mok-dan’s wedding. But it was more his method of prediction that surprised. (The wedding had doom written all over it, frankly.)

gun photo ScreenShot2013-04-16at21833PM3_zps9efb2ca6.png

If he’s aiming at you… you’re fine. (It’s the bystanders that should worry.)

Throughout the show the husband commented on Shunji’s less than stellar shooting abilities. To quote him, “Shunji can’t shoot for shit.” He also said that, contrary to the popular saying that a well-prepared person brings a gun to a knife fight, Shunji should stick with the knife (or sword). Because while Shunji was generally useless with a gun — he was deadly with a sword. So when Shunji was preparing to crash Kang-to’s and Mok-dan’s wedding, and he unholstered his gun, the husband knew Mok-dan was dead. His reasoning? Shunji was going to aim for Kang-to (obviously) but since he can’t shoot, he was going to hit Mok-dan.

Which amused me — but also got me thinking. Because waaay back in the beginning, when Shunji first started hunting Gaksital (possibly even before he’d committed to the uniform — it’s in episode 11 when he was still kind of wavering) he actually successfully captured Kang-to. In the gardens of the gisaeng house, when Kang-to is escaping after killing the banker-dude, Shunji goes after him with his sword and fights him to a standstill — his sword at Kang-to’s neck. Kang-to was either captured or dead… until Koiso distracts Shunji with a wild gunshot.

shunjisword photo shunjiswordcollage_zps099e42bf.jpg

Game. Set. Match.

I may well be reading too much into this (it’s a thing I do) — but it strikes me that putting his sword aside, the weapon he was good at and obviously respected, and picking up the police officer’s gun, Shunji was cutting off an important part of himself, weakening himself. Why? Perhaps it was yet another way he tried to keep a piece of himself pure? That he might be tainted by what the uniform, and his revenge-quest was making him do — but not his sword. If true, I don’t see this as a conscious or recognized  choice on Shunji’s part — not like his obsession with Mok-dan. I think it was probably more his attempt to embrace every part of being a police officer — and police officers use guns. But the result was he hampered himself with a weapon he wasn’t very good with.

Another thought I had (all by myself this time), has to do with circles of caring. It was interesting how large or how small characters drew their circle — and how that changed over the course of the drama.

Mok-dan, unsurprisingly, didn’t change much at all. Her circle of caring was huge. She didn’t just care about her father, or even just her fellow circus members. She cared about the entire country of Korea. Which meant she was willing to risk everything (including her father) if it meant Korea’s freedom. And since Mok-dan was the drama’s ideal, you could tell how well a character was doing, morality-wise, by the size of their circle.

And, just as unsurprisingly given their character trajectory, Kang-to starts small but grows to be just as big as Mok-dan, Shunji starts large and shrinks. Though it’s interesting that Shunji’s large circle of caring is untested — it doesn’t really hurt him to be good to everyone around him no matter their nationality. kangto photo ScreenShot2013-04-16at24927PM1_zpsc2317f24.png(It’s also completely unsupported by his family.) And when his circle shrinks, it hurts him (his madness and frustration). But he keeps on pulling it tighter and tighter until there’s nothing left but him — at which point he kills himself.

Whereas Kang-to made a conscious choice to go small and care for only his brother and mother (doing whatever it took to earn money to care for them and hopefully cure his brother). It hurt him, too. You could see that especially when his circle began to grow and you could feel his character relaxing, even as his life became more and more dangerous.

Most interesting, to me, was Rie. Trauma made her draw her circle down tight as well (as it did for Kang-to and Shunji). She cared for herself, and herself alone, by tying herself to the most powerful man she knew, doing all she could to maintain both his power and his protection of her. goodbyes photo ScreenShot2013-04-16at22537PM_zps20b45f97.pngIt was through her interactions with Kang-to (and even Mok-dan, which I liked — unusual in a drama for a second lead female to gain conscious character growth through contact with the main female lead) that she started to question why people enlarged their circle.

But I think it was also through watching Shunji’s descent into madness that she started to realize there was a danger in keeping her circle too small. goodbye2 photo ScreenShot2013-04-16at22615PM1_zpsf95c0024.pngCertainly she reached a place where she cared enough for Kang-to to put herself in danger to protect him. And that (incredibly awesome, heartbreaking, but also uplifting) final scene with Katsuyama confirmed her growth by her selflessly letting him go.

In the end, I think Gaksital was a cleverly disguised morality tale, showing the strength of good (selflessness, fairness, etc.) over evil (greed, rage, etc.). The incredible fight scenes, careful storytelling, and well-fleshed characters made it a tale well told. I still found it got bogged down towards the end with too much talking and too little action. But the final episode brought us an action-filled, incredibly satisfying ending. Well worth the rewatch.

2 thoughts on “Putting Gaksital to rest…

  1. Great post! And a real pleasure to read!

    How fascinating, the way your husband predicted Mok Dan’s death! I hadn’t ever thought of it that way before, which just goes to show how male thinking can be so very different from female thinking! XD

    Also, I LOVE your insight into circles of caring! It makes complete sense, and on further thought, I feel that every character is presented in that context in terms of growth, including the secondary characters: Manager Jo (from caving to protect himself, to giving up his life to protect others who play more crucial roles in the fight for the greater good) and Tamao (also, from caring only for himself, to his eventual sacrifice for the greater good). Pretty much every character that I can think of has an arc that fits with the circles of caring. Love it.

    Thanks, too, for the shout-out ^^ I’m honored!

    • I’ll admit, I love getting a male point of view of the various dramas we’ve watched together. He was much harder on Shunji, for example. Not moved by his tears in the way I’d been. 😉

      Oh, Manager Jo had such a great arc. I think in your review you talked about how he brought in the human factor. That realistically, people did break under torture. I loved that he hit that low, but was also given space to grow back out. And how that opportunity made him into an even stronger person. (His death scene just wrung more tears from me. He was such an awesome father-figure.)

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