K-Drama Arthdal Chronicles Review

Over the span of 18 months, I watched the first episode three times because I was not sold on the first episode, mainly because I was really confused about what was going on. The first episode was hard to follow and being able to understand Korean did not help. I powered through and made it through the second episode and nothing could stop me until I was done.

This is a quick explanation of episode one:

It’s a war between the Neanthals and the Sarams (literally translates to humans from Korean). The Sarams farm crops, have governments and have set up technological systems like the assembly line and pulley systems. The Neanthals have blue lips and blue blood and are physically superior to Sarams. They are telepathic and stronger than any other being. The first episode starts with Sarams trying to negotiate with the Neanthals for their fertile land, promising them wealth and power which the Neanthals don’t care for. The Sarams were not happy with their response and wiped out all of the Neanthals using a bioweapon to weaken them and then kill them all. Then we go into the shirtless Song Joong Ki episode!

I can easily say it was one of the most epic shows I’ve watched and I need the next season to be available now. The cinematography is beautiful. Each of the tribes, in the show, have their own customs and some have their own languages. The costumes and props were very creative. You can tell there was a lot of work put into this show.

I found a lot of mixed reviews about this show so I was hesitant to watch it even though they have an all-star cast with Song Joong Ki (Vincenzo, Descendents of the Sun), Kim Ji Won (Fight For My Way, Descendents of the Sun), Park Hae Joon (the asshole from World of the Married) and Jang Dong Gun (A Gentleman’s Dignity, Friend). The only reason I could think of why this show had such mixed reviews is that Koreans and kdrama fans like to see beautiful people and beautiful things on the screen. They want to see the young and rich, we enjoy watching regular people marrying a 1%’er and this show didn’t have this. What it did have instead, is one entire episode of shirtless Song Joong Ki. This was beautiful enough for me.

Some people compared it to Game of Thrones (minus the incest and rape) but I think it is completely different. Yes, there is a battle for who will be the leader of the union but that is one of the very few similarities. I feel Game of Thrones needed the shocking scenes to keep people interested in the slow-moving stories whereas Arthdal Chronicles didn’t need the shock factor. The pace of the show was good, there were no wasted scenes, the background was stunning, and the acting was amazing. Arthdal Chronicles takes place in the bronze age while Game of Thrones is in the dark age.

Each of the main characters made their contributions to the story. There are four main characters. Tagon (Jang Dong Gun) is the leader of the union and a power-hungry war hero. Tanya (Kim Ji Won) is the daughter of Yul Son who is next in line to be the great spiritual mother of the Wahan Tribe who is unsure of herself. Eun Sum (Song Joong Ki) is half Neanderthal and half Saram (Igutu) and was adopted by the Wahan tribe but also treated badly because he is Igutu, he is also Tanya’s best friend. Tae Alha (Kim Ok Bin) is the daughter of the Hae Tribe chief, a crazy ambitious badass woman, and Tagon’s lover. I love her and hate her at the same time. You will have mixed feelings about all of the characters. There are no completely evil characters. You can see and feel how they may believe they had no choice but to be evil. The heroes in the show are also unsure of themselves which added an element of realness to it.

There was some criticism about being inconsistent with the technology and time period. Let’s be real, this is a fantasy kdrama and not a history lesson. There is no point in pulling apart those minor details that most people do not notice just to make yourself feel smart. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

This show touches on a lot of current social issues especially with the mistreatment and annihilation of indigenous people and all of the victims involved in colonization and globalization. Another thing I love about this show is that men and women are completely equal. The females in the Hae tribe are trained in combat. The spiritual leader of the Wahan tribe can only be a woman. The female villains are just as bad as the male villains. The males are just as emotional as the females. How this show did not become a cultural phenomenon and Squid Game did, is beyond me! Please watch this beautiful work of art.

Spoilers Ahead

The relationship between Tagon and Tae Ahla is real love. To their families and political opponents, they make them believe their relationship is strictly mutually beneficial. They come to each other’s rescue and aid when it matters most. This makes it hard to hate them even though they are the main villains and have done the worst things.

I am really sad that Mugwang died. I know he’s an asshole but I love the actor Hwang Hee (I totally want to see him blow up like Wi Ha Joon) and I wanted to see him redeem himself with a meaningful death. Someone with this many sins shouldn’t be alive in the show but he is still loved by his brother and I wanted to see him grow. Is that too much to ask?

Chae Eun (Go Bo Gyul) and Noon Byul (Elena An) are two key side characters. They are the messengers and play a significant role in the plot. Noon Byul is slowly turning back into a Neanthal after her adoptive father, a doctor in Arthdal, did everything to suppress that side of her. What is going to happen to her now? Noon Byul has a strong sense of loyalty and love to her adoptive family. This is the only family that she knows. When two of the surviving Neanthals find her, she did not want to go with them. Chae Eun is like us. She is a normal person living in a capitalist world. She knows what they do in Arthdal is evil but also enjoys the comforts. She does her part by helping who she can. Kind of like us, we buy clothes that were probably made by underpaid sweatshop workers but donate to the local food bank or shelter. Where did these two go after their parents were killed by Mugwang??

Saya the long-lost twin brother of Eun Sum is in love with Tanya because she is the only person that cure his loneliness. He is a cold killer but he grew up alone and imprisoned in a small room by Tagon and Tae Ahla. Saya grew up reading books but has zero people skills and lacks all empathy. His love for Tanya is more of an obsession and makes it clear to her that she is only alive because he wants her to be. No one has taught him how to love.

The thing I am most curious about is how the subsequent season is going to set up the relationship between Tanya and Eun Sum. They became leaders on their own, Tanya the Great Mother in Arthdal and Eun Sum as the leader of the Ago tribe, and developed as individuals because of all of the shit they had to go through just to survive. Did this make them grow apart? Tanya thought Eun Sum was dead for a long time and she was hell-bent on getting revenge for his death and freeing the Wahan tribe from slavery.

When and if they are reunited how will they feel about each other? I don’t think Eun Sum and Tanya will end up together. They are on opposite sides politically now. They have been through so much while they were apart that there is no way they will feel the same way about each other. As a Kdrama slave, I obviously want them to have a happy ending by getting married and having cute little babies together but let’s be real (as real as you can be in a fantasy kdrama), there will be a huge misunderstanding and one of them will die tragically.

Is the next season in production yet? I know it was scheduled for February 2020 but COVID messed that up. I can’t seem to find a reliable source that says it’s produced. All just rumors. There are so many actors, I don’t know how they’re going to match everyone’s schedules and the show didn’t have the ratings that they wanted (and deserved!). I don’t think it helps that Kim Ji Won is trying to leave her agency either. I have so many questions and I need the next season to come out soon!

 

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