I think I now understand why some bloggers continue recapping dramas they disdain. Some strange bond forms between recapper and drama, even the risible drama. (Stockholm Syndrome? Morbid fascination?) So it is that no sooner had I recovered from the exertion of recapping Episode 1 of Road Number One (or R#1) to death than I watched Episode 2.
To save my sanity (and yours) however, I have sworn off the compulsive, anal nearly-12,000-words-and-topping-150-screen-caps recap. Instead, I present to you: The 2,222-word Recap of Episode 2!
Good for the show but bad for the snarky recapper, this episode had fewer unintentionally hilarious moments. Which may mean that the show is settling into its groove, or that I’m getting the hang of the Rules of this Alternative Universe.
We open with set-piece scenes from Episode 1. Hey! Those are my screen-caps!
My Episode 1 Recap predicted that Episode 2 would be: “More shouting, more shooting, more anger, more angst. The end.” Well…
It is June 25th, 1950, the start of the Korean War. A tank attacks a South Korean army convoy in the Yeongchon padi fields. Panic and pandemonium. Lee Jang-Woo (So Ji-Sub) alone seems to have kept his wits as he hauls the asses of the petrified soldiery.
The Lee Family Compound. Confusion. Kim Su-Yeon (Kim Han-Neul) scurries to their hillside storage shed to find her brother.
“What is going on?” Jang-Woo’s father asks her, wonderingly, even as the radio announces the invasion. Thus demonstrating…
Rule #1 of this Alternative Universe: Nothing is Too Dumb to Ask or Too Obvious to State
Jang-Woo dashes into the Lee Family Compound, having unaccountably detached himself from the fighting. Wide-eyed, he urges his father and Su-Yeon’s younger sister Su-Hee to safety, while he sprints after Su-Yeon.
Soldiers and fleeing villagers converge at YeongChon Bridge.
Village Head to General: “What is happening? What shall we do?”
General: “You need to evacuate.”
Rule#1—Nothing Too Obvious
Village: “Will we be able to return to our homes?”
The General displays a map – so crude it can’t be any real help to soldiers, but so simple it can be understood by us at a glance – showing they must retreat south of the bridge. Nice! Rule#1 in operation in topographic form.
Rule #2 of this Alternative Universe: Why speak naturally when you can SHOUT!!!
Tae-Ho (Yoon Kye-Sang) arrives panting at bridge and shouts: “The explosives must be fixed to the bridge!!”
Sergeant Oh Jong-Ki (Son Chang-Min): “But there aren’t any engineers to do the job!!”
Tae-Ho: “I will do it myself!!”
At the same time, Jang-Woo reaches the hillside shed…
Jang-Woo to Su-Yeon: “Su-Yeon-ah!! We must get away!! Now!!”
And along with the shouty, another Rule kicks in:
Rule #3 of this Alternative Universe: Wide-eyed for the Win!
Back to the bridge, Tae-Ho is teaching inexperienced men how to rig explosives. “We must not let that tank pass this bridge!!”
Tae-Ho runs into Su-Hee.
Su-Hee: “Su-Yeon has gone to the shed to look for Oppa!”
Su-Hee: “But don’t worry, all is well, I’ve saved her wedding dress!!”
Jang-Woo tries to make Su-Yeon run away with him. But Su-Yeon angrily refuses. How can she leave her injured now-fugitive brother and her young sister?! Jang-Woo blazes, “What about ME??!!”
So, our hero can not part with his woman now. Not when he has killed men so that he can live to see her. And when every day he has devotedly drawn her image. But not one day in two years could he write a letter. Oooh kaaay.
Rule #4 of this Alternative Universe: Logic is for Losers
Jang-Woo and Su-Yeon, torn between duty (stay with family/army and risk separation) and Epic Love (run away together), shout and shove at each other, furrow their brows, bulge their eyes (at least, he does), embrace, howl with tears, and generally carry on at the Shed of Sorrows.
Rule#5–Milk the Maudlin
Back to the bridge. Tae-Ho and his panicky soldiers scramble to attach explosives even as tanks rumble ominously into view and open fire. They grapple with things falling into the river, inability to tell the colour of wires, getting shot, dropping detonators, and all the accidents attendant upon a bunch of amateurs attempting a tricky operation under heavy fire. Actually, it’s all quite exciting. The wide shots are particularly impressive.
We even had some moving moments: Tae-Ho before the tanks arrive, swinging vulnerably from the bridge on ropes, self-talking and praying for success. The officers calming the frightened troops (and themselves) before the storm.
But, this is still the R#1 universe, so:
#1—Nothing too Obvious
Tae Ho asks his men urgently “What’s that? What’s that?” when he hears a rumbling sound coming from the north, a sound in fact just like tanks.
#2—Love the Shouty
Lots of shouty.
#3—Wide-eyed for the Win!
#4—Logic is for Losers
Um, they didn’t think to attach explosives to the bridge earlier, or to assign more men to the job? Captain Yoon has to ask for a progress report on the team rigging the bridge when he is on the bridge? Soldiers can be running along the bridge or sitting messing with wires, fully exposed, and not be touched by enemy (or friendly) fire?
#5—Milk the Maudlin
Tae-Ho and Captain Yoon carry on terribly over certain injured men.
“Park Hong-Ki! Park Hong-Ki!”
“Lieutenant, I did good?”
“Yes, boy, you did.” Sob.
Captain Yoon: “Ju-Hwan! Ju-Hwan!”
Tae-Ho: “It’s all my fault!! I must save him!!”
Now, soldiers are being blown to smithereens all around them. Why all the drama surrounding Private Park and Ju-Hwan? Because they have been given names and (young boyish) faces, and we must Milk the Maudlin, that’s why.
At one point, firing even ceases so that soft sappy music can play as Tae-Ho confesses to the Captain, “They all died because of me!” Sigh. Ok, I get it, you feel bad you told Su-Yeon about the secret plan to rig the bridge. But how about, they died because there is a war going on?
Note also that Tae-Ho runs back along the bridge to fetch detonator equipment against orders to retreat, not once but twice. Introducing…
Rule #6 of this Alternative Universe: Why do a scene only once when it’s double the fun to do it Twice
Meanwhile, just in case you need more of the maudlin, as Tae-Ho suicidally prepares to blow the bridge, he flashes back to handing Su-Yeon an umbrella in the rain in happier times, that k-drama romantic trope.
Then Tae-Ho plunges the detonator. But… nothing happens! (Probably because one of his men didn’t connect the wires with the correct colours.) Howl of despair! Oh, the tragedy, the tragedy of war!
Back at the storage shed, Su-Yeon and Jang-Woo are still angsting!
As they embrace tearfully and passionately (again), a revolver is pointed at them. Ohnos! Tae-Ho! How did he detach himself from his platoon and teleport himself under heavy fire? (Logic is for Losers)
Tae-Ho: “My men died because of me. And because of you, Kim Su-Yeon. Yet, still, I wanted to see you.” (But you couldn’t rescue her from death by fire?)
Su-Yeon: “My promise to you was sincere. But that promise was given when Jang Woo wasn’t in the world.”
Tae-Ho: “What about now? Answer me!!” Again with the yelling down the barrel of a gun. (Rule#6—Twice is Nice)
Jang-Woo interposes between them.
“Kill me!! If I die, you wouldn’t have to kill Su-Yeon!”
Wow. The only Rule not in operation in this scene (Shouty? Wide-eyed? Logic fail? Maudlin? Check check…) is #1. Because it’s not obvious that Tae-Ho can’t kill Su-Yeon after he kills Jang-Woo. And, Jang-Woo, after all your swearing of eternal devotion, you’re now going to make her watch you get your brains blown out on her behalf? Nice.
Jang-Woo presses the gun against his own head and closes his eyes. Tae-Ho looks conflicted.
And I’m feeling this scene, right here. Maybe because I can’t see So Ji-Sub’s bulging eyes or guy-liner so much.
The convoy of fleeing civilians takes direct hits. Jang-Woo’s father is injured while protecting Su-Hee.
Some More Angst
of the macho, stand-off sort.
Tae-Ho, Jang-Woo and Su-Yeon stand before Captain Yoon. Tae-Ho accuses Su-Yeon of communist sympathies, which Jang-Woo denies vehemently. (But really, how does he know when he hasn’t been in touch for two years?) Su-Yeon stands silent as she is accused, as usual.
Instead of arresting Su-Yeon, sensible Captain Yoon asks her to tend the wounded. Tae-Ho protests. (What, you just spared their lives, and now you want her prosecuted and possibly executed?)
As the Captain leads Su-Yeon away, Tae-Ho and Jang-Woo continue their stand-off. Tae-Ho swears to expose Su-Yeon. Jang-Woo swears her innocence and contends Tae-Ho can’t want her dead.
Somewhat changing the subject, Jang-Woo says, “You’ve never killed anyone, have you?”
And then the penny drops for me. Oho, Tae-Ho is supposed to be the lily-livered one. Come to think of it, he was pretty scared of the tanks (though all the soldiers were). And I guess I didn’t get this earlier because I was distracted by his bravery on the bridge. But clearly this show is taking a “Jang-Woo is a braver and better soldier than Tae-Ho” arc because Tae-Ho is shamed into silence.
Jang-Woo ways, “Do you really want to hasten the experience of that horrific and dirty act?” Tae-Ho retorts that if Jang-Woo is not himself running away, he must now join battle.
“Don’t think for a moment that war is a game,” says Jang-Woo. Best line of the episode, folks.
Nonetheless, as Jang-Woo stares down at the rifle in his hand, we know that he has been needled by Tae-Ho into re-enlisting. Sigh.
Meanwhile, the tanks appear to have retired for a mid-day siesta, because though the villagers were being shelled a moment ago, now all is calm as soldiers and citizenry encamp peaceably.
Jang-Woo joins Su-Yeon as she performs her favourite medical procedure on his father, i.e., the liberal sprinkling of white powder on an open wound. She tears her wedding dress to bind his wounds. (Major symbolism!)
Even when in agony, Jang-Woo’s father has to check that Miss Su-Hee has eaten. Is he being mindlessly servile so that by his bondage to servitude we are set up to sympathise with the communist sympathisers, or because the maudlin is being milked? Dunno.
Even More Angst
of the manly, heroic sort
Tactically, the soldiers need to hot-foot to Seoul to shore up defences. But noble Captain Yoon wants to stay to protect civilians. In the “sensible military strategy” versus “protecting the villagers” debate with the General, a compromise is reached: Captain Yoon’s Company alone will stay behind.
The Company men are dismayed and start acting up. Captain Yoon says quietly that any man who doesn’t want to face a tank may leave (What, permission to desert?). And I feel a Stirring Scene coming up…
“I will fight,” announces Tae-Ho stoutly.
“So will I,” steps up Jang-Woo.
The rest of the men fall in with our heroes.
Yet More Angst
Jang-Woo picks up his helmet and looks down at his rifle. Again! And in fact, having screen-capped it, I can tell you it is THE SAME SHOT! Twice, so nice.
Brow furrowed, Jang-Woo tells Su-Yeon he has to return to the fight. They are sad.
Captain Yoon informs the villagers they can’t go home yet. They will try to hold off the tanks, but the villagers must flee. He kneels in apology, the soldiers salute, we are all deeply moved (supposedly).
Tearful farewells all round, not least between Jang-Woo and Su-Yeon, but surprisingly without too much carrying on. She ties a white handkerchief round his wobbly hand.
I don’t know how she unearthed this nice clean cloth or what purpose it serves, but I mention it because the White Handkerchief is clearly a Significant Object.
More Shooting (or at least, preparation for)
“Life is just as a vapour, and forever treacherous,” the soldiers sing as they march, in case we haven’t gotten that “War is Tragic”.
Just where are those tanks?! One moment they are on the villagers’ tails, next moment the soldiers have to track for miles to get to them…
The plan of attack involves digging large traps where the road is narrow, precisely-timed explosions, and triggering land-slips that (hopefully) incapacitate tanks.
Like me, Jang-Woo has a bad feeling about this over-elaborate plan. A back-up is needed. Jang-Woo the wizard military strategist (remember his ‘wild boar’ play?) says the tanks can also be taken out with Molotov cocktails. And I looked it up, it’s true. The Finnish army used Molotov cocktails against Russian tanks (and coined the term), neatly disabling them by forcing crews out, if not actually destroying them.
Jang-Woo is given leave to execute his plan. (What, soldiers marching on foot carry enough petrol and glass bottles to make Molotov cocktails?)
The Captain addresses the men stirringly. Everyone looks determined.
More Angsty Shouting
Back with the villagers, Jang-Woo’s father takes a turn for the worse, ohnos. He apologies for causing the misses trouble (preternaturally servile again).
The sisters shout, “Hang in there!”
But he dies, asking for Jang-Woo.
Su-Hee shouts pointlessly, “Wake up!”, while Su-Yeon applies CPR pointlessly.
Twilight. Jang-Woo sits on a hillside sketching Su-Yeon. He binds his trembling hand with Su-Yeong’ magic white cloth, and hugs his Molotov cocktails to his chest while he rocks back and forth. (!!)
Morning breaks. Tae-Ho contemplates his jade ring and clenches it in his fist.
Jang-Woo notices soil slipping, and we know what this means because this happened in Episode 1 (Rule#6—Twice is Nice) – the tanks are coming!
The soldier with the detonator is sweating with nervousness. (If timing is crucial, why have the officers left this with the poor foot-soldier?). The Captain mutters, “Not yet, not yet”, and we all have a bad feeling about this.
The twitchy solider plunges the detonator.
Ohno!!! Too soon!!
End of Episode and (approximately) 2,222-word Recap!
After the frenetically-paced first episode, episode 2 now feels slow, particularly the second half. I get the feeling that pace is dictated by the slotting in of set-piece scenes rather than by story flow.
At least the writing is consistent according to its own lights, i.e. according to the Rules of this Alternative Universe. The show is still too fond of the “Shouty” and the “Wide-eyed.” I’m afraid So Ji-Sub is by far the most guilty of indulgence. Like, they think the more hysterically the couple carry on, the more epic their love? In fact, in this episode I like Yoon Kye-Sang better as I thought he over-acted less. Kim Han-Neul remains vapid, but it doesn’t bother me anymore because I’ve decided that she’s just a plot device in a skirt and not a real person at all.
On the other hand, Choi Min-Soo (Captain Yoon) must be commended for holding the line for decent acting. His excellent performance suggests that I may have been too kind to So Ji-Sub and Yoon Kye-Sang, for he shows that it is possible to bring depth and empathy to a role even with little back-story and even when there is plot WTF-ery going on all around him.
And may I suggest an overarching Rule of the Universe of R#1:
Rule#7—Style over Substance
Production values continue to be impressive in this episode. Shots carefully composed, every blade of grass lovingly placed.
Battles scenes were well-executed. Lots of realistic sweat and grime. But overall the episode was still an unsatisfactory watch because of the lack of believability and substance.
And, so wish they would go easy on the So Ji-Sub guy-liner. So distracting!
On a Final Frivolous Note
I realise, sinkingly, that recapping R#1 is a bit of a fool’s errand. If you like the show, you wouldn’t like my snarky recaps. If you don’t like the show, why bother watching or reading recaps?
Since I’m sunk anyway, I might as well go down in style. Here, then, is some doggerel:
There once was a bridge down at Yeongchon
That witnessed all manner of carryings on
Embracings and tears
Explosions and fears
t’was there, love and war lost or won
There was an old shed on the hillside
All manner of secrets it did hide
A rebel, a hurt
Two men and one skirt
And passionate kissing, beside
There once was a road, Number One
From Pyongyang to Seoul it did run
With tanks on our tail
We panic, we wail
There’s no doubt that war is no fun
For my next trick, for Episode 3, I will attempt a recap in 333 words. And, possibly, a song. Wish me luck!