Text review of “Soldier” or “God of war” (First 15 Ep.)

Today I will like to review the Korean drama called “soldier/god of war” or etc. depending on subtitle version. The show has 50+ episodes. This review will only cover the first 15 episodes.
The show is set in ancient Korea when the Mongol horde started to conquer the world.
The story follows a guy who is born to slavery and his rise through martial virtue shown in the arena.
If the plot sound familiar, you would be right. It is highly influenced by the movie “gladiator”.

The main character lived free as a Buddhist monk even though he was a son of an escaped slave. However, he was discovered as a consequence of a failed monk revolt. Rather than living and dying as a construction site slave, he chooses to enter the arena.
The characters’ stories have similar elements of a free person becoming a slave and entering the arena.

The character dynamic of the show is also quite similar. The main character has a relationship with a young female slave who plays a similar role of motivating the main character as with Maximus’ dead wife. He also has a relationship with noble female who is the daughter of the raining military dictator.

But their relationship is rather constrained and is an one sided patronage by the female noble.
It reminds us of the relationship between Maximus and the imperial princess.

In my opinion, these similarities are intentional.
This show is designed to basically be gladiator set in ancient Korea. This is nowhere more evident than how they depict the arena.
Because of the historical setting, gladiator games are replaced by a combative form of polo. Think of polo meets ice hockey.
However to impose the theme of gladiator, the actual polo aspect is ignored in the show’s depiction.
People just go at each other on horses to emphasize the gladiatorial aspect.

The main character even uses a helmet similar to the one used by Maximus.
This obvious referencing to the movie is not a bad thing especially you are a fan of the movie.
You know what you are getting. The show is a high quality television remake of gladiator.
And I mean high quality in terms of production values.
You can see the money and care put into the sets and the customs.
The action scenes, whether it be arena or battle scenes, are well choreographed and are fun to watch.
The acting and casting is above par for most of the myriad characters shown on screen.

I especially liked the work done by the actress playing the noble daughter. She depicts the character’s elegance, restrain, intelligence quite well as she becomes the patron of a slave who is about to die.
Now, let’s talk about cons.
There are two main problems with the show.

First, the actor playing the main character has a limited acting range. While what he can do is not bad per say, he has difficulty in portraying complex emotions. So, sometimes he seems somewhat wooden when he is beyond his depth.
Second, the story is not just simply an adaption of the plot of gladiator but rather the plot of gladiator if he lived and served under Rome for the next few decades. Among the 50+ episodes, the gladiator story arc only covers up to episodes 12 or so.
When they keep to the gladiator plot, the show is tight in its writing and acting.
There is a good mix between action, plot, and character moments.
Once it turns into a historical epic battling the Mongol horde, the character driven stuff goes out of the window and everyone becomes 2 dimensional.

I especially hate what they do with the noble daughter.
After the show concludes the arena arc, she becomes just the woman with an obsession with the male character. This is a shame since before she was the most interesting character in the show.
This does not mean that the show isn’t worth seeing after the arena arc finishes.
The action is still great with high production quality. And the overall plot regarding the fate of Korea under the threat of Mongol invasion is interesting.
You just need to lower your expectations regarding the characters.
My conclusion is that this show is great for its first 12+ episodes. Afterwards, it becomes just a good show.
I would have to say that 50+ episodes were too much for the writer or writers. Considering the working conditions of drama writers in Korean, this isn’t a surprise.
So, even if the number of episodes scare you, would recommend at least catching the arena arc.


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