Song of the Bandits promised action, and that is what it delivered. As for the story itself, you need to make an effort to give it a chance, but to its credit, it comes easily enough after that. The actual story of Song of the Bandits, which is about the stealing of some funds (as shown in the trailer), starts after the first two episodes. We liked the story, and everything about the series was extremely promising, but we wonder if the episodes could have been shorter. We don’t have a conclusive answer to that question since every part of the narrative felt important, yet it seemed to drag quite a bit sometimes.
But there is one particular gripe we have with Song of the Bandits, and this is another thing that we are not sure as to whose fault it is. We can’t tell if the details of the heist and the plans that make up the story were actually incoherent or if something went wrong with the subtitles. A crucial part of world-building involves including the audience. We certainly appreciate when everything is not oversimplified for the viewer, and the authenticity of the world is preserved by tailoring the details accordingly, and the mark of good writing is in how you strike a balance between these factors. Perhaps the best example would be Game of Thrones.
We suppose we all can agree that for the average person, it took a good number of episodes before the events of the show started making sense, after which they were firmly a part of the world. Later on, even though the cryptic nature of the conversations did not vanish, we pretty much understood what was going on, if not immediately, then in a while. It also made a difference that the show ran for 10 seasons and had more than 60 episodes. This meant that the time spent understanding the world was negligible compared to the time spent enjoying it. But we don’t believe that is the case for Song of the Bandits. The conversations between the characters are supposed to be tailored for the audience to understand the situation and the motivation of the characters. We got the latter part because of the clear demarcation between the heroes and the villains, but the former, which were the plans in place, felt incomprehensible at times. We end up understanding what is going on simply because we see it happening, but we were also supposed to know something when they spoke to each other.
Moving on to the better aspects of the show, the actors were in fine form. While Kim Nam Gil was fantastic as expected, it was Lee Hyun Wook’s portrayal of Lee Gwang Il that was the show stealer. There was just something about the character’s desperate cruelty that the actor executed so wonderfully. We feel similarly when comparing Seohyun and Lee Hyo-jung. The latter’s portrayal of Eon Nyeoni and how she tried to be an honorable outlaw at all times was very believable. The fact of the matter is that we hate superlative dialogues, the kind that recognize and diminish situations with the purpose of sounding artful and deep. We know that Korean dramas have them more than any other content out there, and for all our love for the content that comes out of this country, this has always remained a pet peeve. Therefore, imagine our happiness when we did not see that in Song of the Bandits. We had most expected them most from Eon Nyeoni, and while hints of this seemed to be there, she was still better written than we would have imagined.
On a completely different and probably frivolous note, does anyone else find that the color scheme of anything related to action is always black and brown with just a hint of blue to represent that one who cannot fight or is not as used to it? It is as if this just doesn’t change. All the bandits, the soldiers, and literally everyone else was wearing black and brown, except Nam Hee Shin, who is dressed in a cleaner dark blue to emphasize her finer lifestyle. We suppose the choice of dark blue is because of how well the color complements black, to emphasize power, which is what the series is all about when talking about grit and war. While trying to understand the story from the trailer, we expressed our wish to see some beautiful ball gowns. Sadly, that was a fashion letdown moment. It is not as if the clothes worn by the cast were true to the fashion of that time, so why not make the ball gowns better instead of just being so frilly and tacky? Anyway, at least Lee Yoon looked cool in his coat. And Cha Chung Hwa has never looked better, perhaps other than in See You in My 19th Life.
Coming back to the show itself, we know that we said that the action was at the center of things and that it looked good. But we found ourselves questioning how it would look to someone who wouldn’t pay attention to the details. What we mean is that at any point in the action sequences, a lot is happening at the same time. We are sure that it all came together well and made sense, but we found that single ‘wow’ moment missing.
We are reminded of scenes from Extraction 2 when we saw Chris Hemsworth beat up people and got an idea of the technique and strength he was using as his character. Despite all that was happening, that one part was clear and was the highlight for us. We are also reminded of particular scenes from Moving, where the mixture of amateurish and expert fighters was brought together so artfully, and we had those moments that gave us the rush of adrenaline. It just proves that the best parts of action are actually the simplest ones, and we felt like a lot of things were blown up in “Song of the Bandits,” and there were also a lot of bullets flying about, but we did not find ourselves glued to the screen like we should have. There is no denying the style of it all, but it still didn’t have the charm it should have.
Finally, we will say that Song of the Bandits is a decent watch that you will enjoy. We wanted it to be something extremely memorable, which it failed to be, but it is good enough for a weekend Korean drama binge and should be approached accordingly.