Song of the Bandits is a 2023 Korean drama series, streaming on Netflix. There are 9 action-packed episodes, set in the 1920s, that have you cheering for a ragtag group of bandits fighting against the mighty Japanese army. Of course, it’s probably impossible for them to win. But you really hope that, against all odds, the “peach tree” can be saved.
♦ A National Hero? Which Nation?
In Episode 1 of Song of the Bandits, we are introduced to the main lead character,Lee Yoon. There are only 3 choices when the enemy invades your country: fight and try to live, die, or join the enemy. Lee Yoon was a slave in Joseon but his master freed him so that they could both serve in the Japanese army. Because of Lee Yoon’s military successes he was honored as a national hero. He could have remained and continued to “enjoy” the blessings of the Japanese emperor, but he left.
Lee Yoon can not erase or forget his sins. He killed a man’s entire family, following orders, of course. But he knew he was wrong. There was nothing heroic about what he did and he regretted his decision to join the Japanese army. He did not seek forgiveness but wanted to face the man in Joseon whose family he had killed, and die by his hands.
♦ What is the Song of the Bandits?
Choi Chung-Soo was the man Lee Yoon wanted to face. When they finally meet face to face, Lee Yoon finds that Choi Chung-Soo doesn’t want to kill him. Chung-Soo is the leader of a village who had embraced Christian teachings.and now lives a quiet peaceful life. All he wants is for the villagers to live in peace. Besides, Lee Yoon’s death won’t bring justice or bring his family back.
While they were having a conversation, the peaceful village was attacked by a gang of marauding bandits. Many of the villagers are killed and a young girl is taken captive. Too bad for the gang. They didn’t know that Lee Yoon aka Gamjaesaja, the “Guardian Grim Reaper”, witnessed their attack. He pursued them and his attack was so swift, the gang didn’t know what hit them.
Choi Chung-Soo sensed that Lee Yoon was not afraid to die. He advised him to redirect his desire for death and LIVE using his skills to protect the people. That would be a better way to repent. Lee Yoon said because of what he had done as a Japanese “puppet”, he could not become a member of the Independence Righteous Army, the Korean independence fighters. Since he could not raise an army of his own, he would gather a group of outcasts together and live as bandits.
Not the kind of bandits who rob and steal. In Lee Yoon’s words, these bandits would be: “The kind who tell their stories with the soun made by swords. Isn’t it time we let the Japanese hear the song of the bandits.” With that determined change of heart, he went from being a national hero to a seditious Joseon citizen who was to be hunted down and executed.
♦ What About the Woman?
Lee Yoon told Choi Chung-Soo there was a woman he was searching for. He met her when he was serving in the Japanese army. He knew nothing about her, not even her name. But he had to find her. Eventually, he would learn that her name is Nam Hee-Shin. Even though she worked for the Japanese railways, she was actually a participant in the Independence Movement. She had money she needed to get to the fighters and Lee Yoon made it his peronal mission to deliver her and the money to them safely. But first he had to convince the rest of the bandits that she was “one of the good guys”.
- Lee Yoon (played by Kim Nam-gil, “Pandora”, “Live Up to Your Name”)
- Choi Chung-Soo (played by Yoo Jae-myung, “Kingmaker”; “Stranger”)
- Nam Hee-Shin (played by Seohyun)
Viewership and Rating:
- IMDb Rating: 7.2 out of 10 stars
- My Drama List: 8.3 out of 10 stars
- Common Sense Media: 4 out of 5 stars
My personal rating is 9 out of 10 stars. There were 9 episodes and each episode is worthy of its very own gold star. I cheered for all of the characters who were the “good guys”. Plus the OST (original soundtrack) and the Wild Wild West vibe were kind of cool! Watching a Korean drama series about the Japanese invasion and occupation of Korea is a valuable learning experience, even if it is fiction. Some events depicted are recorded in history.
Song of the Bandits taught me about the geography of Joseon at the time, and the intricacies of the relations between the Japanese, the Chinese, and the people of Joseon. For a period in history there was no land that belonged to the Joseon people. The country had been carved up between the Japanese and the Chinese. Yet the Independence fighters kept on fighting.
LINKS OF INTEREST:
- ‘Song of the Bandits’ review: Kim Nam-gil is unmatched | NME
- Is Song of the Bandits based on a true story? … | Ready Steady Cut
- ‘Song of the Bandits’ Netflix Review: Stream It Or Skip It? | Decider
Netflix K-Content. “Song of the Bandits | Official Trailer | Netflix.” YouTube, 6 Sept. 2023, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujgGTWypdWs.