Korean Movie Stories

Faith: Episode 1

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EPISODE 1 RECAP

We open with a nifty animated sequence—macabre, gritty, and quite compelling—that narrates the tale of Hwata, a legendary healer who could cure any illness he encountered. Animated needles jab into a brain with a satisfying squick, then a scalpel slices open a torso. Of all his talents, Hwata was especially gifted in surgery.

There was a ruler named Jojo who suffered from excruciating headaches, which Hwata healed. Impressed, Jojo proposed to make Hwata his royal physician… so Hwata fled, reluctant to spend his days doctoring just one person.

 

Jojo sent warriors after him, urging him to return and live a life of wealth and glory. The world would know him as the man who saved Jojo’s life. If he refused, they would kill him.

Hwata merely chuckled and said that the world would remember Jojo as the man who killed Hwata, the man who would save the lives of the world.

It was then that the sun darkened in the sky and the heavens sent down a strong wind. A portal opened up, and Hwata entered it laughing.

 

We segue into live action as a guard is blown back from the force while the portal pulses with mystical energy. It says something that I’m momentarily disappointed at the switch because the animation was so charming, if eerie.

We’re in the year 1351, near the Yuan-Goryeo border.

An entourage travels in the rain, guarded by warriors on horseback. One guard notices the red light in the sky and wonders, “Hwata?” Seems to be a well-known myth around these parts.

One rider is particularly indifferent to everything—even the suggestion that they’re being followed. This is CHOI YOUNG (Lee Min-ho), and he half-yawns, “I know.”

The royal carriage gets its wheel stuck in a puddle and he just sauuuuunters over like it’s no big deal. So are you the most senior bodyguard, or just the laziest?

One of the younger men zips through town and returns to report bad news. No boat until tomorrow. Choi Young is the one who addresses their royal charge, saying they’ll have to spend the night. Ah, so the most senior AND laziest.

This is the Woodalchi unit, comprised of warriors who guard the king, and Choi Young is its boss. (He’s often called General or Leader and sometimes simply Woodalchi. Choi is the surname, but I don’t anticipate anyone calling him Young-ah anytime soon. Other than me, I mean.)

On they go to an inn, taking it over. The cover story—to maintain the royals’ privacy—is that the travelers are a newlywed couple who are extremely sensitive. They they pay off the innkeeper to kick everyone else out.

 

The royals are ushered in quietly, and Choi Young settles back with a bottle of liquor. His second-in-command, BAE CHOONG-SEOK, doesn’t see how he can be so cavalier when (1) he knows they’re being followed, (2) he knows the followers are responsible for messing with their boat plans, and (3) the followers are expecting them to retire to this inn, since it’s the only one. So they’re sitting ducks, aren’t they?

Choi Young’s retort: Ya wanna wait in the street with a flag, then? Ha, it must be frustrating for a conscientious guy like Choong-seok to have to work under him.

Choong-seok asks for instructions about guarding the inn. Choi Young lies down already half-asleep and mumbles, “Handle it… really… well.” Ha. At least his No. 2 is competent to take over.

Now we meet KING GONGMIN (Ryu Deok-hwan), who silently works on a charcoal drawing while one of his advisors rants. The man, JO IL-SHIN, is keen on removing that head bodyguard who dares order them to travel in secret, with their faces tucked out of sight. No grand procession to proclaim His Majesty’s glorious return to Goryeo, after being taken away as a child? No pomp and circumstance?

Choi Young interrupts the tirade (yawning, heh) to tell King Gongmin that he’ll be bringing the queen to his room—it’s too difficult to guard multiple entries. He acknowledges that the king and queen aren’t on the best terms, but he handles everything with that unerring matter-of-factness. This is safest. This will be the plan.

 

The queen makes her entrance. She’s his wife, but I’ll be calling her Princess Noguk per the character description; it’s her name when she was the Yuan princess, married off to the Goryeo crown prince. Immediately the royal spouses tense and eye each other with loaded stares.

Sure enough, late that night shadowy warriors make their move on the inn. They charge into the empty main room—and above them from the rafters, our warriors spray them with an iridescent liquid that spatters their clothing. Effectively, they’ve marked the enemy with giant glow-in-the-dark targets. Like shooting glowing fishies in a barrel.

Our Woodalchi guys encircle them with swords drawn, which appear to glow blue in the moonlight. Ha, is this a way of getting our Goryeo-era lightsaber feud on?

Blue Swords are doing a good job against Green Splatters, but Choi Young tells the king that there are more than expected. He gets the king’s promise not to run away no matter how scared he gets. Choi Young assures, “Then I will be able to protect you.”

Outside, Woodalchi defends against the invaders. Choi Young stands as the last line of defense in the king’s room, waiting.

The defense is breached, and attackers arrive at the king’s door. Time for Choi Young to do his thing. Thank goodness he does it well.

He takes down the initial intruders easily, but more pour in. The king comes close to being struck, but he keeps his promise not to run away, and Choi Young defends him successfully. Even the court ladies fight back, as does the royal physician.

 

But! Princess Noguk is slashed by a sword before Choi Young can kill her attacker, and she slumps to the ground. Now it’s time for JANG BIN (Philip Lee) to prove he really is the best doctor in the land, and he gets to work. First he asks Choi Young for some “energy”—and Choi Young nods, holding his hand above her body, a mystical force radiating from it.

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As that energy pulses into an acupuncture needle in her hand, the camera zooms through her bloodstream and to her heart. A caption tells us he’s slowing her heartbeat. Oh, interesting—it’s both fantasy and medicine. Just like the drama said it’d be.

 

Jang Bin places another needle, and Choi Young shoots more ki into it, this time to control the bloodflow. (Which begs the question: Are you really the best doctor if all you did was use someone else’s ki-controlling powers to treat her?)

The Woodalchi warriors chase the retreating intruders, intent on capture without killing: they need info. But a straggler collapses already dead, foaming at the mouth—suicide.

Princess Noguk’s condition does not look good, and Jang Bin reports that a major artery was cut into. Sputtering advisor Jo Il-shin goes on about the political ramifications of the Yuan princess dying, especially with the precarious position Goryeo is in vis-a-vis the Yuan powers. But Jang Bin decrees, “Without a divine healer, it is impossible to save her.”

The term for divine healer is a homophone for faith, our drama’s title. It’s also a term that applies to Hwata, the legendary healer of our prologue. Jo Il-shin thinks back to the red sky, and wonders.

King Gongmin says, “If that woman dies, our country dies.” For once Choi Young looks like he’s feeling an emotion—regret and dismay. Gongmin sighs, “As soon as I become king, I ruin the country. I’m quite the great king.”

That won’t do. Choi Young asks where that divine healer can be found, so he can bring him here. Jo Il-shin declares that he resides in heaven—disappointed sighs all around—but that he knows the portal to the skies. Ahh, I geddit! I see where this is going…

The world of this drama appears to be halfway between secular and pagan; the others aren’t exactly hopping to appeal to unseen gods, but they’re not calling Jo Il-shin a crazy man for suggesting it, either.

 

King Gongmin gives his reluctant assent. Princess Noguk cannot be moved, so Choi Young will move out and leave a number of guards behind: “Because it appears what they want is the queen.”

The king stops Choi Young’s exit to ask what thoughts he’d had throughout the long journey from Yuan to the Goryeo border: “What do you think of me, the king?” Choi Young answers that he thought he was a good king, a fortune to their people.

But the king follows that by asking, “You dislike me, don’t you? From the outset, from before you met me.” He ignores Choi Young’s attempts to brush this aside, asking point-blank why, ordering him to reply honestly.

So Choi Young drops the false smile and says that the previous king had been 14, and dethroned by the Yuan for his youth. Gongmin is 21, also young, and spent his formative years in Yuan territory. Now he’s here to rule the Goryeo kingdom: “The thought that I had to guide such a person here to rule this country made me think what rotten luck our Goryeo people had.”

Instead of growing angry, Gongmin’s eyes tear up and he asks, “They all think that, don’t they?” Aww. Choi Young replies, “You’re the fifth king in eleven years. The people won’t much care.” Oof. It hurts because it’s true.

The king thanks him for his honesty. You get the sense he’s struggling to keep his composure, and Choi Young adds one last remark: “That means I don’t dislike you especially.” Just, you know, the normal amount. And you know, that actually lifts Gongmin’s spirits.

Jo Il-shin leads the king’s entourage to Hwata’s portal, said to be a thousand years old. He’s set up an altar there; as the myth goes, once in 300 years, the portal allows a faithful worshipper passage through.

The portal starts to pulse, kicking up wind, and Choi Young stands guard in front as it starts to open. Jo Il-shin urges the king forward as the best suited to appeal to Hwata, but nobody moves. It’s not exactly an appealing task, jumping into the literal abyss, and the king is rather timid to begin with.

 

King Gongmin steps forward tentatively, and turns to Choi Young, who understands his fear. Instructing the king to give him the order, he offers himself to go. With a bow, Choi Young heads into the swirling void.

It swallows him, shoots him through, and deposits him at the base of a shrine. Heaven? He looks up at the stone statue and bows.

And… a tourist snaps a photo on her phone. Not heaven then. He jerks at the flash, then makes his way down the hill and tries to make sense of the landscape.

He has arrived in 2012 Seoul, which is all tall buildings and flashing lights. He tries to cross a street but is knocked down as honking cars and speeding motorcycles zoom past. What treachery this?

Stopping for breath at a temple, he hears a singing monk. He tries to get his attention… but the monk is listening to his mp3 player and can’t hear, HA.

Choi Young introduces himself as from “a different land” and asks for help—he’s looking for a divine healer. Haha. How much difference mere context makes; he’s utterly solemn, but the question sounds utterly absurd.

The monk figures out that he’s looking for a doctor, and asks what specialty he requires. Choi Young makes a knife-slash motion at his neck: “This part.” The monk leans in, takes a look, and decides, “Ah! A plastic surgeon!” (Just what, pray tell, are you insinuating is wrong with Lee Min-ho’s neck?)

Choi Young asks intently, “Do you know where they are?” The monk replies, “There are lots of plastic surgeons. This is Kangnam.” HAHAHA. Cheeky, I love it.

Choi Young specifies that an ordinary doctor won’t do—he needs the bestest, divinest doctor around. The monk directs him to a convention at Coex (pffffft) where he can find lots of famous ones, gesturing right across the way.

Choi Young asks for specific instructions on how to get there, but the monk tells him blankly, “You just… go. That’s all.”

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“I… just… go?” Light bulb moment. “Ah! I see!” I’m dying laughing here, wondering at all the possibilities. Just what do you see, I wonder?

Choi Young hies himself off in newfound excitement, and the monk answers a call on his cell: “Are they shooting a candid camera here? I would have known if it was a drama.”

Cracks. Me. Up.

Choi Young goes into full warrior mode. Breathes deeply. “I’m… just going.”

And then he walks straight into traffic. OMG. He’s treating this like some kind of test of faith, dodging the speedy death machines with his usual stone face, not even flinching.

Lesson No. 1: Do not be so literal with this man!

Pedestrians snap photos of him, which sends him lurching after them suspiciously. He arrives at the international plastic surgery convention, which thankfully has Chinese characters in its signage that inform him that he’s in the right place.

On the expo floor, he walks past displays of medical equipment, X-rays, and other modern marvels. He finds a lecture hall where one doctor, YOO EUN-SOO (Kim Hee-sun), addresses the gathering. She takes them through a facelift procedure that’s shown onscreen, and hey, that face incision looks a lot like that neck slash.

Choi Young’s arrival causes a stir, and security guards escort him out. He goes quietly, but the disruption puts Eun-soo in a bad mood since he’s distracted everyone from her talk.

She complains about the crazy man afterward to a phone friend, and we learn that Eun-soo’s trying to set up her own practice and is looking for investors.

 

Security guards demand to know his deal, but Choi Young is distracted with all the CCTV screens, spotting Eun-soo in one frame. He asks totally seriously, “How can I go inside there?” He feels around the wall: “I have to get inside. Please open this up. I have to meet this doctor.”

The guard gets upset when Choi Young shoves him away and growls about pressing charges. Choi Young just slices his nightstick in half, in a hurry to meet the doc.

 

He heads out and finds her looking at some medical equipment on the expo floor. Without preamble, he asks right off the bat whether she can save a patient with the princess’s injuries.

She ignores the crazy, but he steps in her path and blocks her, just as the security guards corner him with guns drawn.

He draws his sword and presses Eun-soo again—can the patient be saved? She sputters, “H-how would I know? I’d have to see for myself how hurt they were.”

 

“You have to see for yourself?” This gives Choi Young an idea, and he holds his sword to the guard’s neck. And slashes it. Holy shit, motherfuckin’ crazy! That look of horror? Yeah, that’s on my face too. Repeat Lesson No. 1: Do not be so literal with this man!

Choi Young carries the guard over and tells her that his patient was cut just like this. Can she save him? He says completely seriously, not meaning it as a threat: “If you cannot save him, I will try again with that man.” *Points to other bystander.* HAHA.

Eun-soo gets to work assembling the necessary supplies while the police and SWAT team arrive outside. The police get on the PA and ask for a status update, calling a nearby landline. Choi Young freaks out at the ring and smashes the phone, ha.

Eun-soo concentrates on stitching up the wound, and Choi Young is impressed to feel the man’s pulse still beating. Well, that does it. He starts packing up all her supplies and tells her she’ll have to come with him. He ignores her protests and expects her to obey when he tells her to follow close behind… so naturally she tries to duck off in the other direction.

 

Next thing we know, he’s dragging her off, all, Why can’t you just do as I say?She’s all, But there are cops everywhere! He says they’ll just break through the front and takes her hand. Um… I’m not sure if he’s better off being told about guns, or not.

In the lobby, their exit is blocked by a line of policemen holding shields. More SWAT officers move into place above, around, behind. But then… he holds out his hand, sparking with ki. Oh hai, I’d forgotten about you! He shoots a wave of energy at them, blowing the officers off their feet and shattering the glass doors.

Then he addresses cowering Eun-soo and apologizes for this next discourtesy. Ha, just this one? He tosses her over his shoulder, grabs a police shield, and takes her back to the portal.

 

By now she’s crying and begging for her life. He tells her all she has to do is save this one person and she gets to go back home. She’s clearly seen too many movies; she sobs, “You lie! I’ve seen your face! Kidnappers always kill you when you’ve seen their face!”

He makes a sincere pledge on his name as a warrior to return her to her home. They turn to the portal….

Freeze. Rewind!

We jump back ten days prior, to Eun-soo’s trip to a local fortuneteller. Oh, are you asking about your future mate? This is hilarious. She asks for a date and location of where she can meet her man: “But not just any man. One with LOTS of money!”

The fortuneteller starts his reading process, and she squeezes in one last request, “And make him a hunnam!” Hee. (Hunnam is what you call a guy with a warmth and kindness, who’s maybe not as pretty as a kkot-minam.) She keeps chattering, “I’d like it to be sooner than later! I kind of need money…” I love her. She doesn’t want a husband, she wants an investor.

 

The answer? The heavens will send along a man… whom she met in the past. He advises her to look among her exes for this heaven-sent one.

That has her confused. Who could it be? She thinks back to a man she dated in her intern days, a sunbae who made her write his reports for him. Ha, it’s Ahn Jae-wook! (These two basically carried ’90s dramas between the two of ’em. How cute.) He broke up with her because he met a rich girl whose family would set up a hospital for him. His parting consolation: “That girl is totally uglier than you. Her personality sucks too. But you know, it’s a hospital.” Heh.

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Eun-soo’s second ex-boyfriend liked her a lot… and proposed during a plastic surgery consultation. Ha, and then she dated him for three months? He was rich, but yunno, she couldn’t do it—his face was too ugly. Oh lordy, this woman. She’s hysterical.

The fortuneteller points out, “You said you needed a man with money.” She pauses: “Then is it him?”

She clarifies that she doesn’t need this relationship to end in marriage—maybe just an engagement. She can borrow money and make her research project succeed, at which point she has a firm lined up to take her on. Then she can use her earnings to pay back all that money and break the engagement! Win…win?

You know it’s bad when you render the fortuneteller speechless. He adds, “But I don’t think this [current match] will turn out that way.”

He tries another reading. This one foretells of a “very long travel” in store for her next year. That won’t do, and she gives up. As she leaves: “Do you know whether there’s a good tarot reader in this building?”

Goryeo. Back to the past, only we’re seven years prior to our opening timeline. It’s the day that Woodalchi meets their new leader, and it’s a hit to the pride to hear that he’s only 22 years old. Still, he already has an impressive military record.

Ooh, another awesome animated sequence! I love that this one has a different graphic style entirely.

The men relate Choi Young’s accomplishments, and how awesome his swordsmanship skills are. Furthermore, he even shoots lightning from his hands. He’s got a terrible temper, having once beat down someone for waking him up.

Ah, so Choong-seok was the previous boss, and he’s handing over the position to Choi Young. It’s a royal order, so there’s nothing they can do about it.

Dol-bae’s the hotshot who blusters about how the new guy ain’t so great, and how he’ll show him who’s boss when he arrives.

Enter Choi Young. His first question: “You the boss?” Second question: “Where can I go to sleep?”

The men look at him incredulously with WTF expressions on their faces as he lies down and sleeps. For three days, lol.

Dol-bae wants to test the new boss, but young Deok-man holds him back, remembering the rumors. Dol-bae scoffs that those are just stupid stories and starts to approach.

Without changing positions, Choi Young throws a stick at Dol-bae’s face and nails him on the forehead. And sleeps on.

 

COMMENTS

And… that’s it? What a strange place to cut an episode off, although yes, I am definitely hooked for more. Moar!

I was hoping this drama would be good, for so many reasons. I love the writer (Story of a Man rocked my socks, and the legendary Sandglass ain’t too shabby, either), and despite finding 2007’s Legend flawed, I loved the world it created. There are a lot of “fantasy” series in dramaland these days, but Legend had a really cool mix of magic, mysticism, lore, sageuk, politics, and visual effects. Yet even with all that, it had great small moments too, character beats with interesting relationships.

So here we are with a similar aesthetic, only it’s not just Legend Redux. It’s whimsical and visually arresting, in all its multiple forms—the fantasy historical stuff and the various animated sequences. Which are so freakin’ boss I can’t even contain myself. If the drama keeps giving us more of these stylish animated interludes, I will be thrilled. And agog at all the work involved.

The world of Faith is packed with potential, such as the Goryeo-Yuan politics. I don’t know enough about this part of history to be able to tell what’s real and what’s fictionalized (probably most of it?), but true history is more a launchpad for certain characters and conflicts, I think. It’s not the story’s focal point; just the fact that they’re weaving history with all this fantasy goodness is enough to intrigue me.

More than the epic landscape, though, I like what I see in the character details—because who can keep caring about a cool world if it’s populated by people we don’t care about? The king’s frosty relationship with his wife appears to be fraught with lots of baggage and history, which we’ll likely be seeing unfold gradually, in layers. Ryu Deok-hwan plays the young, hesitant king with such wounded vulnerability that I’m already in his corner, rooting for him to find his feet and become the great man I think he’s capable of being. You see the flashes of his potential wisdom and strength, buried beneath the layers of fear and uncertainty. So, so great.

I already find the heroine a hoot, even though she’s mostly been fodder for comedy thus far. I don’t quite know what makes her tick, but because I’m so amused by her shameless, hilarious antics, I’m primed to like her when she takes a more dramatic turn, too.

And Choi Young? The hotness of Lee Min-ho aside (and that’s a very large force to be setting aside), I’m enjoying his character so much, even though you’d think an apathetic hero would be difficult to get behind. He’s so drolly cavalier that his dealings in his time are humorous in an intentional way, and then he takes that serious mien to the future and he’s hilarious in an entirely other way. I guess I just love laughing, and these characters totally make me do that.

Still, there’s so much material for him to show depth as well, and I’m just about giddy to keep watching to see where this show takes us. It may be a wild ride, but it’ll be one amazingly shot, beautifully scored, entertainingly wild ride.

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