WARNING: This review contains some spoilers.
Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People is perhaps the best series I’ve seen in 2017. I had run into a few shows before it but they didn’t hold my interest, so I didn’t know what to expect from the historical series.
Though the first couple of episodes were a bit slow and my interest was rather hit and miss, the wonderful acting and storytelling kept my opinion from taking over until the show progressed further. I was taken aback by how beautifully the story unfolded. The cinematography and acting were particularly moving throughout each arc of the series.
The antagonists of the show painted an interesting look on totalistic societies through the timeline of Confucious’s philosophy. This unique element paired with dashes of humor and the element of the vigilante group, the Hong Clan, gave balance to the series in ways I didn’t expect.
Unlike so many Sageuks before Rebel, the music maintained authenticity with the time period, only adding occasional dashes of modernity here and there. Previous period dramas have inserted k-pop at random, specifically in regards to romance, ruining the feel of the historical storytelling.
In addition, the romance in this show, unlike others, feels decently placed as a sub-plot for the overarching narrative of Gil-dong’s (played by Yoon Kyun-sang) struggle to save the people from a tyrant King. The drama’s plot centers around him supporting the people of Joseon who couldn’t help themselves, and I loved the main character all the more for it.
Each character, and the actors that portrayed them brought such life to the show. I didn’t find myself pulling for one over the other. With the antagonists, I felt contempt and hatred for them, which in my opinion speaks to the actors’ impressive talents. The main antagonist, whose actress delivered arguably one of the best performances for such a role, goes to Seo Yi-sook who played a nobleman wife. Her character’s ruthless and wretched classism highlighted a viewpoint of what totalitarian and radical ideologies look like, especially to those who are seen as “inferior”.
This ‘inferiority’ is best seen through one of the main characters, Hong Amogae (played by Kim Sang-Joong), who starts out as a slave and fights an uphill battle against oppressing higher classes to achieve financial stability for his three children. Ultimately, he succeeds and forms a family mafia-like business.
Even though I knew it was coming, I was crushed by Hong Amogae’s death, and subsequently delighted by how it was handled by the script department. Seeing how Hong Gil-dong grows up to be just like him, and the way the other characters reflect upon his death throughout the show made the passing of time feel natural and also brought to the viewer’s mind how much the character was missed. Kim Sang-joong’s portrayal of Amogae was by far one of the most moving I’ve seen all year (2017), and it will hold a special place in my heart for a very long time.
Honestly, I have so many good things to say about the series, that while reflecting on it, it’s hard to find its flaws. There is occasional poorly done CGI, and in a few minor respects, some pacing issues were the only problems I encountered with the drama.
While I think the longer episodes and the slower character-driven story are perfect for this series, there are moments and arcs that seem to trudge, specifically the reunion between Hong Gil-dong and his siblings. In my opinion, it took slightly too long in regards to the story’s pacing. I don’t believe they should’ve reunited right away, but I do believe it was possible to further Gil-dong’s storyline just a little bit better had he reunited with his brother an episode or two earlier. Additionally, a couple of the romantic scenes could’ve been cut down or removed for better pacing. Fixing these issues would’ve created greater urgency to find his siblings and balanced the story a bit more.
The only other aspect of the show that could’ve used some tweaking was the sister’s backstory. The brainwashing element felt a little awkwardly tacked on because it wasn’t developed enough.
Despite these small flaws, they were barely noticeable in the context of the whole show, and they did nothing to diminish my enjoyment. Ultimately, Rebel: Thief Who Stole The People has marked itself as one of the best in 2017. Its memorable characters and story have left an impression on me that won’t be forgotten.