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Series / Hong Gil Dong

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From left: Seo Eun Hye, Hong Gil Dong, Heo Enok, Lee Chang Hwi

In 2008, The Hong Sisters decided to try their hand at a sa geuk, or historical drama. Being who they are, however, their attempt morphed into an anachronistic comedy littered with toilet humor, gag words, and ridiculous puns. Hong Gil Dong (쾌도 홍길동, lit. Sharp Blade Hong Gil Dong) is the result.

Based on a novel published during the Chosun era, the story tells of Hong Gil Dong, the illegitimate son of a (political) minister who settles into a life of professional laziness, after being discouraged by his father. He gets the call and tries to repeatedly run away to China. In a weird twist of fate, his jealous half-brother In Hyung attempts to frame him for theft, and ends up framing him for murder. In his efforts to clear his name, Gil Dong gets framed some more, and later becomes leader of Robin Hood-like bandit group, Hwal Bin Dang.

Gil Dong's heroic efforts are repeatedly thwarted by King Incognito Lee Chang Hwi who, after escaping an assassination attempt to China years ago, is back to reclaim his throne from his half-brother Kwang Hwi. Chang Hwi's methods are less than honorable as he tries to avenge his mother's death and return to his rightful place. His encounters with Hong Gil Dong force him to reexamine himself.

Compare Hong Kil Dong, a North Korean film that offers a very different take on the same source material.

This series provides examples of:

  • Accidental Hero: Gil Dong's Mistaken for Murderer story becomes a Robin Hood-esque rumor. As he attempts to find the real murderer and clear his name, Gil Dong searches through different groups of crooks and ends up freeing their captives. He's not being benevolent, but rather trying to setback the crooks.
  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • Both Chang Hwi and Gil Dong call Enok "Dummy"
    • Su Geun calls Enok "Doe Eyes"
    • Enok calls Gil Dong her "Gallant Moonlight Black-Clad Sir."
  • Altar the Speed: Chang Hwi tries this with Enok. Gil Dong/Enok actually do this.
  • Alternate Aesop Interpretation: In-Universe: Young Gil Dong misinterprets all of the lessons the monk Hae Myung tries to teach.
    • Hae Myung makes the young Gil Dong clean and sweep. Lesson taught: Self-discipline. Lesson learned: Nothing in life is free.
    • Hae Myung makes him hang from a tree branch. Lesson taught: Patience. Lesson learned: Trust no one.
    • Hae Myung makes him fill a leaky barrel. Lesson taught: Non-possessiveness. Lesson learned: Over-working achieves nothing.
    • Hae Myung makes him repeatedly bow to pray. Lesson taught: Tranquility. Lesson learned: Shamelessness.
  • Anachronism Stew: Sunglasses, hip hop, techno, among others.
  • Berserk Button: Kwang Hwi, who has a concubine executed for daring to think she can bear a son for the king. Apparently, his less-than-legitimate status has given him a complex.
  • Cool Shades/Sunglasses at Night
  • Create Your Own Nemesis: Chang Hwi to Kwang Hwi: "You have no right to sneer at one who saves the poor. You created [Gil Dong], because you made the world poor. The poorer you make your people, the bigger he gets."
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Enok's grandfather Heo
  • Death Faked for You/Faking the Dead: Chang Hwi. Gil Dong.
  • Derailing Love Interests: Chang Hwi, after The Reveal.
  • The Determinator
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Enok's adoptive Grandpa Heo
  • Distant Finale: The last scene takes place in modern-day South Korea, long after the characters are dead.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: The ending.
  • Double Speak: Chang Hwi gives Enok his mother's pin, saying that it is only fit for a queen. Enok recognizes that as a marriage proposal and promptly gets out the pin her grandfather Heo had given to her for her future marriage to Gil Dong, saying that it suits her better. That is, she's choosing Gil Dong over Chang Hwi.
  • The Dragon: Lady Noh
  • Empathic Environment: In the scene where Gil Dong last confronts Kwang Hwi, the day immediately changes to night to signify the darker turn of the scene (and story).
  • Epic Fail: Enok does this, as a Running Gag
  • Epunymous Title
    • Throughout the series, the name 'Hong Gil Dong' is discussed as if it isn't one person in particular, i.e. Hong Gil Dong is alive through you. Hong Gil Dong is a placeholder name in Korea, like John Doe.
    • Also, the Korean title is Sharp Knife/Blade/Sword Hong Gil Dong. In the ending narration, Hae Myung says, "The sword that looks the world in the face, takes note of it, and changes it — in any world, there must be a Hong Gil Dong." That is, anyone who stands up against injustice is a sword, or anyone is Hong Gil Dong.
  • Everybody Was a Martial Artist
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Gil Dong to In Hyung: "Do you hate me that much?"
  • Everyone Can See It: Enok/Gil Dong
  • Faux Reigner: Enok plays with this trope to scam people. She is ethnically Korean but grew up in China.
    • Mr. Wang as well
  • For Your Own Good: Lady Noh says this to Chang Hwi
  • Frameup: Everyone in this fictional world wants to frame Gil Dong.
  • Gambit Pileup: Gil Dong vs. Chang Hwi vs. Third Party. Rinse. Repeat.
  • Giant Mook: Opium dealer has one of these.
  • Gratuitous English: "I love you!"
  • Gratuitous Mandarin
    • "Jiayou!" ("Good luck")
    • Enok teaches Gil Dong the Chinese words for "father" and "brother," so that he can properly address his family, even when society would dictate otherwise.
  • Heel Realization: Chang Hwi. It starts with Gil Dong telling him that he treats others' lives like they're nothing.
  • Her Heart Must Go On: Enok (believing Gil Dong is dead): "I can't think of Gil Dong; I have to keep living."
  • Heroic BSoD: Gil Dong has one of these after In Hyung stabs him.
    • He also has another one when In Hyung tells him that his father already knows that Gil Dong is not guilty but is unwilling to help.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Chang Hwi is not a hitman per se, but he doesn't have the heart to kill Enok, even though he knows she knows too much.
  • Honor Among Thieves: Hwal Bin Dang
  • Hooked Up Afterwards: In-Universe. Mal Nyeo/Su Geun after Chang Hwi is crowned king
  • I Am Who?: Enok has the same unusual name as the daughter of a murdered minister.
  • I Didn't Mean to Turn You On: Enok to King Kwang Hwi
  • I Have No Son!/You Have No Son
    Minister Hong: I don't want to see you anymore.
    Gil Dong: Then, next time you see me, pretend you don't know me.
  • If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: Various members of Hwal Bin Dang say this to Gil Dong
  • Imagine Spot
  • Imperial Korea
  • Incoming Ham: Hong Gil Dong, in his very first appearance. His friends even lampshade it.
  • Insult Backfire
    Gil Dong: Those clothes don't suit you.
    Enok: Mal Nyeo said I was pretty.
    Gil Dong: That you're pretty — it makes me even madder .
  • Intentional Engrish for Funny: Mal Nyeo thinks "I love you" means something that ends sadly.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: Played With. See Faux Reigner above.
  • He Will Find Me: Enok says this.
  • Just Friends: Enok tries to convince herself that she and Gil Dong are just this.
  • Just Like Robin Hood/We Help the Helpless: Hwal Bin Dang
  • Keeping Secrets Sucks: Enok believes Gil Dong to be dead, and he goes out of his way to make sure she doesn't find out.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: When Enok finds out that Minister Hong is responsible for her father's death, she sets out to kill him, managing only to blind him before Gil Dong steps in.
  • King Incognito: Chang Hwi
  • Kiss of Life: Gil Dong to Enok, when she's stuck under water and losing oxygen
  • Korean Honorifics
  • Lost in Translation: In Hyung always speaks casually to Gil Dong while Gil Dong uses Korean Honorifics. While this makes sense for their older brother/younger brother and legitimate/illegitimate dynamic, the effect is particularly jarring during the conversation in which Gil Dong finds out that In Hyung framed him.
  • Love Triangle
    • Gil Dong - Enok - Chang Hwi
    • Eun Hye - Gil Dong - Enok
    • In Hyung - Eun Hye - Gil Dong
  • Manipulative Bastard: Chang Hwi will do anything to get his sword back.
  • Manly Tears
  • Meet Cute: Enok meets Chang Hwi on a boat from China. When he asks her why she keeps staring, she admits that she finds him handsome. Chang Hwi tells her to bug off. Enok then notices that he stepped on her last sweet bun and cancels the handsome statement.
  • Mexican Standoff: Kwang Hwi finds out that Hwal Bin Dang's hideout is in the mountains so he blocks all the roads leading up to it, including the ones to the mountain villages. Hwal Bin Dang then interferes with all the food deliveries into town, feeding the mountain villagers. Kwang Hwi then decides to burn the mountain down. Finally, Hwal Bin Dang threatens to burn the mountain down too, while Kwang Hwi and his men are trapped there. The two groups stare hard at each other, as if trying to decide whether killing the other is worth a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Minion with an F in Evil: In Hyung. His mother is behind all his schemes.
  • Mistaken Declaration of Love: Enok makes assumptions often.
    • Chang Hwi says to Enok, "stay with me a bit longer." Which she mistakes for a love declaration. It's a tactical move on his part in order to stay hidden.
    • Gil Dong tells Enok, "don't forget this day." She thinks it's because of their Kiss of Life; it's because he's saved her so she owes him.
    • Eun Hye asks Enok to deliver a message to Gil Dong, that she's sorry she couldn't go to him that time; Enok thinks that Gil Dong had asked Eun Hye to elope with him. Rather, Eun Hye had been present when In Hyung was confessing the Frameup to Gil Dong, but she couldn't testify because she had been in a place where she shouldn't have been.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: Turning point in Gil Dong's life
  • Momma's Boy: Gil Dong's half-brother In Hyung
  • Necessarily Evil
  • No One Could Survive That!: Gil Dong gets shot in the heart and falls off a cliff. Naturally, everyone but Enok believes him dead.
  • No Social Skills: Chang Hwi
  • Not Quite Dead: Chang Hwi. Gil Dong.
  • Oh, Crap!
  • Two Scenes, One Dialogue: An interesting Double Subversion. After learning The Reveal, Chang Hwi is imagining his brother having a conversation with him while Gil Dong is giving a Rousing Speech to Hwal Bin Dang. The two men are having two different conversations, but we get gems like these:
    (Imaginary) Kwang Hwi: Brother, I welcome you to this place.
    Gil Dong: I welcome you all to our new world!

    Chang Hwi: Is this the end for me?
    Gil Dong: This isn't the end. This is the beginning. The king we made will start it all.
  • Two-Person Love Triangle: Gil Dong - Enok - Her Moonlight Rescuer
  • Dream Reality Check: Enok bites Gil Dong to make sure that she isn't dreaming
  • Parental Betrayal: Minister Hong knows that Gil Dong is not a murderer, but he refuses to give up his legitimate son for the illegitimate one.
  • Parental Substitute: Hae Myung
    • Enok's "grandfather."
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Gil Dong's band announce that they will steal from the most corrupt minister. They instead steal from all four top ministers. Hilariously, each minister begs the thieves not to tell anyone that they were robbed.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: Enok : "Gil Dong, can't you stay?"
    • Chang Hwi to Enok: "Don't go to him, stay with me. I'll protect you."
  • Poke the Poodle: In Hyung didn't want to fame Gil Dong for murder, just for theft.
  • Professional Slacker: Hong Gil Dong
  • Punny Nickname: Gil Dong is fond of giving these out.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Chang Hwi does become king in the end, but has to sacrifice all of Hwal Bin Dang, including Gil Dong and Enok, so that none of his subjects believes that he is a puppet king.
    • When Kwang Hwi finds out of his right to the throne all along, he cries, because he had went through all the trouble to usurp Chang Hwi, including sacrificing his beloved minister Hong—all for something he had had all along.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Enok who was raised by Grandpa Heo
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Gil Dong to Chang Hwi: "Why must you be king? Because you're legitimate? I was born to a servant, so I have to be a servant; you were born to be king, so must you be king? As promised, I'll die. You live and think about that. Why must you be king?"
  • Rebellious Princess: Eun Hye
  • Refusal of the Call: No, Gil Dong, it's not as easy as running away to China
  • The Reveal: Kwang Hwi was originally intended to be the king's successor, but Chang Hwi's mother and Minister Ryu (Enok's father) forged the sword the king intended for his successor to be inscripted with Chang Hwi's name.
  • Royal Suitor, Common Suitor: Chang Hwi and Gil Dong, toward Enok
  • Roman à Clef: After Gil Dong becomes Minister of War, he tells the nobles that, regardless of their social status, nobody will be exempt from military service. In South Korea, military service is required for all men. That hasn't stopped the rich from trying to get out of it.
  • Romantic False Lead: Enok mistakes Chang Hwi's stalking for romantic feelings.
  • Rousing Speech
  • Rule of Romantic
    • The production employs fuzzy-focus to tell the audience that the scene is supposed to be romantic.
    • Sun Geun talks to Enok in romantic language ("Let us merely think of this encounter as briefly mingling our scents underneath the moonlight sky"), even goes as far as calling her "Doe Eyes", when he's pretending to be Gil Dong pretending to be someone else
  • Sadistic Choice: Kwang Hi tells Minister Hong to kill Gil Dong in order to prove his loyalty
  • Sanity Slippage: The king Kwang Hwi, who happens to be Chang Hwi's half brother
  • Shoot Everything That Moves: Kwang Hwi isn't sure who in his court is loyal to him or to Chang Hwi, so his plan is to burn the palace to the ground and kill everyone.
  • Shout-Out
    • Bollywood musicals
  • Single Tear
  • Something Only They Would Say: To get Gil Dong's attention while she's in disguise, Enok shouts out repeatedly, in English, "I love you!"
  • The Stoic: Lee Chang Hwi
  • Stoic Woobie: In-Universe. Gil Dong who, accepting his fate as an illegitimate son, knows society doesn't expect much of him and, at the beginning of the story, doesn't expect much of himself also. Everyone he meets tries to get him to accept The Call.
  • Sudden Downer Ending: The only main character alive before the Flash Forward at the end is Chang Hwi.
  • Taking the Bullet
    • Chang Hwi takes a poisoned arrow for Gil Dong
    • Gil Dong takes a sword slash for his father.
  • Throwing the Distraction: Gil Dong throws money in the air to provide a distraction.
  • Toilet Humour: In spades
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: Gil Dong. 12-year-old Gom.
  • Undying Loyalty: Group of bandits, especially Su Geun who wants revenge, to their dead leader; later, to Gil Dong
  • Weddings for Everyone: A sad one. When everyone in Hwal Bin Dang knows that King Chang Hwi's troops has been ordered to kill them, Su Geun/Mal Nyeo and Gil Dong/Enok hurriedly gets married.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Hong Gil Dong
  • You All Share My Story
  • You Have No Idea Who You're Dealing With: Gil Dong says this.
  • You Killed My Parent: Though the king Kwang Hwi is the Big Bad, Gil Dong's father is responsible for the deaths of both Chang Hwi's mother and Enok's father.
  • You Remind Me of X: Enok notes that Minister Hong looks like Gil Dong, while he notes that she looks like her deceased father.