(The photo above summarises the drama)
I hate war dramas. I never watch news so of course I won’t just go watch a drama to show me what I missed in the news in an exaggerated way with extra shots of agony, brilliant acting and background music. I don’t know what made me start this -and it was so long ago I don’t even remember- but I did and it was so hard for me to sit down to watch. Even when I did it’d be only one episode. So it took forever. And I finally finished it. If I knew it’d end like this I would never have gone past episode 2.
From the idealistic and abstract meaning of war and being a soldier to the raw and agonising reality, Road No.1 recalls to memories what happened in the Korean war, in the most barbaric and excruciating way ever.
Road No.1 wants to remind everyone that a soldier is also a human. The drama drags us into the depth of every soldier on the battlefield. We see, hear and feel their thoughts, emotions and pain. We feel their fears, longing, affections, regret and hope. We delve into the innermost of every soldier, identify with their suffering and end up lost between reality and fiction. The drama ends while we’re left with the emotional aftermath.
Two reasons I stuck to this sadist account of war; the first was Choi Min Soo up to ep 7 when his role ended. From the start till episode 8, he was the only thing I watched the drama for.
Then -and as if they knew the audience wouldn’t stick around for the heck of watching malicious killing, litres of blood, unexpected deaths and all sorts of emotional traumas and nightmares- the touching friendship between the two male leads started blossoming and had me grit my teeth and finish the drama -for as long as it took-.
No need to talk volumes about sad things. The war was so horrible. Brothers, literally, killed each other. Families were separated and chased out of their hometowns to serve some nonsensical political agenda. The dead didn’t have proper burials. Great numbers of young soldiers were killed or gone missing. The country was ruined.
In battle, soldiers WERE scared. Don’t talk to me about patriotism and heroism. They were petrified. None of them wanted to be there. And none stayed to serve the great cause or whatnot. Whoever stayed did so for their comrades; because they became family. Soldiers didn’t leave because they didn’t want to abandon their brothers. Simply.
A country’s dreams were shattered on the cross of politics and empty ambitions. The war left incurable scars. The dead lost their youth. Their families were left with the loss. The survivors were left with their physical and emotional scars, with eternal traumas and nightmares and with guilt for the dead and longing for them. NONE survived the war; practically. Nothing was won by the war, but so much was lost. SO much.
The drama presented all that I mentioned in the most sadist way. There was no mercy for the audience, no sugarcoating and no humanization. This is how the explosion happened and this is how they looked like after their limbs were scattered around. This is how their comrades freaked out. This is how some soldiers sacrificed their mates for personal benefits in the middle of the war. This is how media played them up, and these are the consequences. This is how hungry, thirsty, cold and worn out they were. This is when they got abandoned by the higher-ups now and by their people then. This is how your friend gets snatched by the hand of merciless death right under your nose and you can only escape. This is how empty, how meaningless, how cruel and how absurd the world is; take it or leave it.
So Ji Sub as Lee Jang Woo
In 1950 Korea there were still servants -almost slaves- and Jang Woo was one. He was clever, cheerful, optimistic and artistically talented. He was in love with his mistress; Su Yeon and he had it hard all his life because of her. But Jang Woo only lived for her. He entered the war for Su Yeon. He hung in there for Su Yeon. He lived his life for Su Yeon and he died for Su Yeon. The love story was not mentioned for the romance of it. It was there to represent the simple and honest personality of Jang Woo. Jang Woo would lead the world to follow what he believes in. And he believed in two things all his life; Su Yeon and later his comrades. But to draw his character, there had to be something for him to go back to and it was Su Yeon.
As a soldier and a leader, Jang Woo was again simple and precise in his goals. He believed he had to bring his soldiers back to their hometowns alive. The end.
Jang Woo was a shrewd and fearless leader. He was humane nonetheless. He could turn all the objections against him into his favour by touching the hearts of the frightened young men. He made them feel their humanity. And he became their role model and the saviour they looked up to. Jang Woo was left with the burden.
I personally prefer So Ji Sub in melancholic roles. Yes he shines in everything he does but the variety of emotions he can present in a dark work are way more varied and intriguing. And here as Jang Woo, he gave life to the character in every aspect and to a crazy extent. There was not a second where he was not the human and the leader. There was not one look where his personality and genius didn’t shine. So Ji Sub gave me his second best performance so far; after Cain and Abel.
Yoon Kye Sang as Shin Tae Ho
People hated and blamed Yoon Kye Sang when he quit g.o.d for his acting career. I might not have hated him but I did blame him. I’ve always known he was a good actor and I’ve always liked the actor him. But after watching this drama, I can finally understand why he had to make such a decision; why he staked everything on his acting career. As Shin Tae Ho, Yoon Kye Sang presented the best performance here and outperformed everyone. His journey from an arrogant stiff soldier going by the book and forcing his opinion on everyone else to a human leader taking his comrades’ feelings and opinions into consideration and studying all varieties. From an obsessed man in love ready to sacrifice others’ happiness to avenge his dignity and pride to a caring friend helping his friend to be happy with the woman he used to love. Shin Tae Ho’s emotional and intellectual struggles, his rich and varied expressions, his deep voice and that insane amount of passion he could put into his face and voice. His epiphanies and his tears. His affections, dreams and regrets. Everything was written on his face and during the whole journey I could feel everything he went through. He was the most convincing and most affecting character of all the great characters. And I loved and pitied him tremendously. Poor Shin Tae Ho.
Kim Ha Neul as Kim Su Yeon
Now Kim Ha Neul did a great job. But the character was a mess. As I mentioned earlier, she was there just because of Jang Woo’s character. Though she was never blamed, she did ruin many people’s lives because of her reckless actions; mainly the life of the man she loved. She was a sacrificing doctor who only cared about patients but she was not convincing. Well the romantic scenes were convincing.
Choi Min Soo as Yoon Sam Soo
They had to pull him out because he was practically the lead and both Ji Sub and Kye Sang faded behind his shining light. Yoon Sam Soo was the commander of the second company and an outstanding example for all his soldiers. They unconditionally believed and followed him. He was a natural leader. Well you can describe him as Lee Jang Woo after 10 years of being a commander -if that had actually happened-. He had an eye of people and he never failed his judgments.
What made Yoon Sam Soo so appealing was his fatherly care for his soldiers. He treated all his soldiers as his sons and cared for their well-beings. He, as well, only wanted to bring them back home; alive.
Son Chang Min as Oh Jong Ki
The character I hated the most at the beginning then sympathised with the most at the end. I don’t need to tell you how great Son Chang Min was at playing the arrogant, selfish and hot tempered Oh Jong Ki. He was so good I hated his guts. Then as Lee Jang Woo managed to touch his heart he started changing slowly; so slowly, but he did eventually. He was to be pitied at the end.
All -and I mean all- the supporting characters did great jobs. The music was so suitable and heart wrenching. I would definitely not watch this again or recommend it to anyone. And I’ll try my very best not to watch any other war dramas. I need rehab.