BY HanCinema | Jan 31, 2017 04:15 AM EST
At the start of "Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People" Gil-dong (played by Yoon Gyoon-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-seok-I 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.
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