I would not be dispensing a brilliant insight by saying that cinema speaks to us in an audiovisual language. Now and then, you get a superb mixture of these two elements, resulting in a memorable cinematic experience. However, more often than not, filmmakers give us images that are either too beautiful or dull. Both things cause distraction, and sometimes, there is a hollowness in the substance. In Song of the Bandits, writer Han Jung-hoon and director Hwang Jun-hyuk come across as too obsessed and overexcited with their material. They might have just as well made this series to fulfill their desire to make something with a Western flavor. But their vision loses its power when the script is translated into an audiovisual medium.
You want to get lost in the world of this series and cheer for its characters, but you always remain at a distance. What stops you from sinking your teeth into it?
For starters, the images. They are so thoroughly polished that they lose texture. There is no grit, only yellow-colored smooth particles that appear like a "desert screensaver." The sandstorms, we are told, are dangerous and could cause severe damage. But instead of looking perilous, they merely cover the screen and make things barely perceptible. It's impossible to take it with seriousness when some characters walk into sandstorms without wearing glasses (the dust never enters their eyes). What's more, Song of the Bandits has a creamy aesthetic that flattens everything. The sweat is barely noticeable, and everybody's face always looks soft, pleasing, and presentable no matter how injured they are.
Even the blood and gore are devoid of viciousness and are presented as a good-looking spectacle. In the first episode, we don't feel horrified by the sight of corpses hanging from a tree, which Lee Yoon (Kim Nam-gil) notices while riding his horse. This visual looks pretty, and you immediately realize the violence here will be ineffective. The action sequences, at first, are almost incomprehensible. You fail to grasp what's happening and who's hitting who. It's only after Seon-bok (Cha Chung-hwa) reveals that Lee Yoon is also known as "the Guardian Reaper" or something that the fight scenes start to look better. But even then, they can merely be labeled as "nicely choreographed" because they still fail to give you an adrenaline rush. People fire bullets and arrows at each other while you passively observe them. On top of all this, when you hear English songs during fight sequences, you imagine the writer and the director screaming pow! pow! pow! with exhilaration. For them, these characters could just be toys manufactured for their childish pleasures.
In Song of the Bandits, Lee Yoon assembles his gang of outcasts, and they all come with neat, one-line descriptions. There is a sniper named Kang San-gun (Kim Do-yoon) and Geumsu (Cha Yeop), who is worse than a beast, among others. The series runs for almost nine hours, and it never tries to closely examine them. They simply remain loyal pawns. San-gun is given an opium addiction problem, but it only serves to create a slight complication during a mission. After that, this addiction is never brought up. Forget these side characters.
Lee Yoon himself is rendered bland. He has an emotional backstory that sounds solid on paper, but on the screen, it feels meh. Song of the Bandits talks about his past through brief flashbacks - delivered like footnotes - that you don't necessarily need to remember. They don't really elevate Lee Yoon or make him complex. Because, in the end, everyone is only required to move from one place to another. The friends and foes somehow meet at one location and then kill one another before doing the same routine in another location. These beats are formulaic and grow tiring after a while.
Only Eon-nyeoni (Lee Ho-jung) comes with a meaty part - and past. She energizes the frame by simply smoking cigarettes. Her graceful movements imbue a sense of liveliness into even the most serviceable action sequences. I liked how Eon-nyeoni is shown as someone tired of thinking about revenge, and the scene where she realizes that someone else, too, has stopped giving priority to vengeance is well-executed. There is a clever robbery sequence here, and I chuckled when Kwang-il (Lee Hyun-wook) tells a man to make changes to his love letter. But the main issue with Song of the Bandits is that its strengths get diluted due to the weight of an exhausting runtime. It's frustrating when a show takes up SO much of your time and still fails to give you a satisfying conclusion. Oh, how I wish the characters had just pulled the trigger when they had their chance. Why blabber on and on while holding your enemy at gunpoint? If bullets were given more freedom to do the talking, we would not have suffered for such a long time.
Get all latest content delivered to your email a few times a month.
Bringing Pop Culture News from Every Realm, Get All the Latest Movie, TV News, Reviews & Trailers
Got Any questions? Drop an email to [email protected]