Road No. 1 ~ Review
“Remember me like this.
Hold it gently in your eyes,
So you won’t lose your way,
So you can return.”
The impact Comrades left upon me was so great i couldn’t afford to watch Road Number One right after i reached the destination of the aforementioned drama journey. I had to partially detach myself from the unparalleled bonds that were crafted during that watching process in order to be able to begin this romance and brotherhood journey in times of war. A few months later, i was finally ready and the funny thing is that a few days ago it was the 5-year anniversary of Road Number One; perfect timing!
War is a parasite which pollutes human souls and eventually awakens the beast within, a beast capable of the worst crimes. You can’t put war in different levels and categories since every war is equally devastating and the amount of pain it inflicts is severe. However, there’s a certain type of this plague which provokes a human being’s most sickening side to come to the surface. I am referring to civil wars and the Korean War is one of these abhorrent examples as it still remains an open wound dividing a nation, a wound which occasionally keeps bleeding on the 38th parallel.
Road Number One is a 2010 MBC drama and it presents the tale of Lee Jang Woo (So Ji Sub) and Kim Su Yeon (Kim Ha Neul) throughout the years. It’s a story which shyly began during childhood and reached full bloom during the days of the Korean war. Under a variety of circumstances, Shin Tae Ho (Yoon Kye Sang) found himself right between them and an ever-expanding but progressing emotional conflict came to life along with the Korean War.
Except for the moving, inspiring and diverse leading figures with their own weaknesses and virtues, dramas like Road Number One are very demanding when it comes to secondary figures. It doesn’t matter how long they will last during the various phases and faces of this transforming battlefield. What’s important is that they have to be distinctive with each and every one of them evoking different vibes in the air.
Numerous actresses and actors parade in front of our very eyes throughout the whole duration of the drama. Among them you will find Kim Jin Woo, Nam Bo Ra, Han Ye Ri, Song Chang Min, Choi Min Soo, No Young Hak and Lee Kwan Hoon to name just a few along with many guest roles presented by Moon Chae Won, Hwang Bo Ra, Kim Yoon Jung and Kim Yeo Jin among others.
Road Number One is a woeful journey inside a turbulent ocean where isles of bliss brighten the gloomy horizon from time to time. It’s all about selflessness, promises, love, longing and a sense of comradeship which trespass the flames of war that turn the whole scenery into a ravaging wilderness. It’s all about these states of mind and heart which lessen logic’s influence and fuel the purity of emotion within hearts pounding with fear and longing.
It’s the surrounding sense of the fear of the unknown, but there’s also the fear and eventually the threnody of inevitably having to bury loved ones. But there’s also the sense of hope that brighter days will dawn and there will be no more violent partings and disheartening departures.
Road Number One masterfully reflects the extreme collision between the two edges through which life perishes on barren soil and amid the remains life can still gleam anew. The deceased don’t feel anymore, the whole burden is left upon those still breathing. That’s where the actual wounds are and through all these scars life struggles to emerge victorious through chaos.
There’s selflessness and unconditional caring to the utmost level of one putting his/her life on the line for someone else no matter how dreadful the circumstances may be, but there are also personal ambitions that may overshadow one’s mind, heart and duty eventually. The sense of alienation at times is devastating and the whole presentation of how it affects people’s internal world is carved upon their faces and reactions. The face in the mirror becomes someone you wouldn’t recognizes under all these layers of surrounding negativity, mud, hatred and blood.
Road Number one is about survival, but when it breathes through a promise unaffected by the surrounding eerie stench it appears timeless and more sincere. Human relations are being tested with the utmost judge being life itself as it dances on a thin red line through the deeds of men when orders overshadow one’s humanity while the later one keeps resisting in an attempt to preserve its very essence.
The tree was yet another character among characters as an integral part of their background stories. It was the very core of promises, memories and a wide variety of emotions. The symbolism of the tree amid chaos and gloom wasn’t only a form of breathing hope. It was the tree of life for some of our figures as it was the silent witness of memories they’d deeply treasure.
Road Number One was expertly directed despite being such a demanding effort in terms of outdoors shooting, but the indoors part of the story had to possess all the necessary vibes depending on the occasion and the emotional background. The battle presentation and close combat choreography were exceptional while depicting the consistency of a variety of emotions gradually transforming from fear or encouragement to recklessness or a concrete flow of thoughts and actions.
The wide variety of beautiful or dreary landscapes and the way the characters were placed within our screen’s vicinity in their surrounding environment were highly representative as the cinematography was creating a certain atmosphere depending on the flow of events. Shooting from both low and high angles and reflecting the necessary distance between the characters, but also making it seem as if someone was staring at everything going on from a safe distance, made the whole audience participation an integral part of the drama.
The excessive use of closeups was emphasizing on the characters’ emotional world whereas the essential hand focus was one of the highlights as it embedded powerful amounts of gratitude or tension, longing or fulfillment, solitude or completion. The figures’ hands were an extension of all their feelings and they possessed their own dynamics.
The use of lighting was spot on depending on the surrounding environment, the hour and the characters’ internal world as it was enhancing the sense of duty, comradeship, fear and alienation or by forging a more dreamlike aesthetic despite the warlike vibes. In addition, the soundtrack of Road Number One was enriching the overall atmosphere with its heartfelt or upbeat tunes while conveying its own bittersweet layers. The use of effects was spot on and at the end of the day Director Lee Jang Soo honored his lenses.
Han Ji Hoon forged a multi-layered script with gradual and distinctive character development as they weren’t devoid of weaknesses, but with the passing of episodes they appeared wiser, stronger and emotionally stable as long as the circumstances were permitting it. The plot reaches a wide variety of climaxes and emotional explosions throughout the whole duration of the drama, but it also takes its time to soothe the character’s physical and internal wounds.
The pace of the drama gets slowed down by moments of bliss to emphasize on that aspect against the common belief that good things don’t last forever. Such scenes were taking their time to unfold in order to infuse a slight sense of “eternity.” Even though the battle scenes were quite lengthy they seemed to be flowing in fast pace because the action was keeping the interest at high levels. It was a great contrast between scenes where life actually breathes and life can get lost in a blink of an eye.
It wasn’t all gloomy or overly emotional all the time, there were countless humorous moments, not only between our main figures, but between the secondary characters and guest roles as well! Road Number One was craving for such scenes like the forthcoming fire longs for a sparkle to start expanding and they lived up to any personal expectations.
Road Number One isn’t perfect as there were scenes with only one purpose, dramatizing the already overburdened ambiance to a wider extent in order to keep the storyline flowing so as to present some of our characters’ internal struggles later on. There were just a few scenes that were making you wonder how could this happen, but this is the world of dramas, this is war in the world of dramas and this is romance in the middle of a war in the world of dramas.
The scenario was thought-provoking as it was questioning the meaning of all this massive bloodshed while presenting a war’s vulgar face without neglecting the preciousness of life which could outweigh all this negativity anytime. It mostly presents the South Korean side without investing much in the North Korean or Chinese side and i definitely wanted to see more of that aspect. However, the few scenes that had a direct interaction between members from both opposing sites were emotionally fortified to the fullest.
The flashback technique, even though it was overused, it was essential as it was unfolding some of our characters’ past which was justifying their internal world. The narrative tone while reflecting a character’s thoughts, but especially when some of our figures were silently communicating as if they were able to hear one another’s thoughts and replying back without a sound, possessed its own dynamics in moments when the heart could talk.
So Ji Sub was stellar and it was probably one of his most multifaceted and demanding roles. Through an entrancing portrayal he gave flesh and blood to Lee Jang Woo’s very soul and essence and lived up to any personal expectations through the struggle and the omnipresent love. He wasn’t the only one to shine though, Yoon Kye Sang was equally magnificent as his character’s tremendous transformation was being masterfully presented throughout the drama; step by step. Shin Tae Ho was a figure you could actually hate to the fullest for a welcome amount of episodes, but the way his character progressed was dispersing the hateful clouds.
Kim Ha Neul was the perfect choice for Kim Su Yeon’s role as her “neutral” beauty was emphasizing even more on the fact that she was presenting a young Korean woman during these times. I am so glad a flower face didn’t work on this role and Kim Ha Neul, with her own charms and most and above all her acting, wholeheartedly and vividly brought to life Su Yeon. The acting factor of the secondary figures was more than memorable and completed the puzzle of Road Number One as all of them were vibrant in their own way.
Road Number One was realistic and raw without setting aside its own emotional fortresses which were deconstructing the surrounding tension and menacing ambiance by preserving a dreamlike aesthetic. War against romance, hierarchy against friendship, duty against emotion, ever-expanding chemistry, comradeship, excellent acting, an intriguing and competitive scenario alongside the exceptional cinematography were the strongest cards of the drama. Even though Road Number One didn’t surpass Comrades to my eyes, it still remains a great drama and all the threnody and all the magic is for you to find out.