So apparently the last episode of “Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People” wasn’t just climactic. It was, in fact, the climax of the entire drama. King Yeonsangun is in full on retreat. At first I thought he was just going to regroup and try again but nope, King Yeongsangun quickly regresses into a complete mental breakdown, terrifying his staff. In the end it’s actually kind of refreshing that King yeonsangun just starts obsessing about art again, since there’s no good way to whitewash the failure of the authority figures here to put down a rebellion.
As for me, I feel…oddly kind of cheated, that all of this ended up getting resolved so easily. Part of this, though, is just that “Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People” was set up in such a way that a satisfying resolution wasn’t really possible. The only character on King Yeonsangun’s side who gets punished is the one who, aside from a fairly justified personal beef with Gil-dong, didn’t really do anything all that villainous, and is really just being used as a scapegoat so that authority figures can avoid taking responsibility.
This is where the major separation in storylines in “Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People” becomes a big problem. It’s hard to really revel in Gil-dong’s victory that much when the bad guys are already gearing up to prepare sensible sounding compromises that aren’t actually going to change anything substantial. There’s always been this awkward disconnect between the system which causes the injustice Gil-dong fights against and the individual persons who become symbolic of that struggle.
As usual it’s easy to be hyper-critical of “Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People” in ways even I don’t necessarily think are all that fair. It’s just that the characters are surprisingly difficult to connect to. Gil-dong’s got a whole gang of bandits who are easier to describe in terms of their fighting style and clothing than their actual personalities. Other better developed characters, even when evil, end up being more interesting by definition.
This also goes for Gil-dong, whose political opinions are oddly perfunctory, and carry far less dramatic weight than his reunion with Ga-ryeong. Incidentally, Ga-ryeong too is a good example of how for all its big points about fighting for justice, the fate of this one character ends up feeling a lot more important just because we understand here. As in, we understand that Gil-dong shot an arrow through Ga-ryeong’s chest. That kind of stuff doesn’t have to be deep to make an impact.
Review by William Schwartz
“Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People” is directed by Jin Chang-gyoo, Kim Jin-man, written by Hwang Jin-yeong and features Kim Sang-joong, Yoon Kyun-sang, Kim Ji-suk, Lee Honey and Chae Soo-bin.
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Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People