Slightly outdated post but hope you guys still enjoy this!
[Note: wrote this probably a month ago before Arthdal Part 3 was released – not sure if some thoughts are no longer valid – but I thought I would post it anyway to remember what my thoughts were at this point. Hope it’s still a worthy read!]
Surprisingly, Arthdal Chronicles hasn’t been as popular with the Korean and international audience as much as I thought it would be. Which confuses me. This show has a lot more depth than Descendants of the Sun for sure, but why are people ditching it for Episode 1 “bad wardrobe” and seemingly, Song Joong Ki?
Here are some reasons why I liked the show so far:
I’m very impressed at the level of depth of this story. The humans are shown as greedy and selfish, which some may argue is a cliché caricature of humanity. But is it really? I am actually inclined to think that what the Arthdal tribes have done was pretty realistic, even if ugly. They are growing in population, so they require more land. They got the land now but they need the people to do the work, so they obtain slaves. That’s kinda exactly what the real-life colonisers did, didn’t they? In fact, I felt that Arthdal Chronicles was a well-written and interesting story on colonialism. But I don’t profess to be the expert on this topic, having only read very few books on this theme, so please share your thoughts on this.
I’m sure many of us are guilty of having thought tribal practices as barbaric, cruel or just plain weird. But Arthdal Chronicles choosing to portray its story using two leads from the Wahan tribe is a really smart move in placing a lot of things into perspective for its viewers. Instead of “the Others”, these are leads whom we have come to love and understand. They are Us, and we are them. I’ve been thinking about this for a few years now to be honest, having read an article then which discussed the hypocrisy in judging some tribal practices. For example, why is it that your tattoos and your ear piercings (no matter how many) are acceptable and aesthetic but those of the tribes are “disgusting” and “gross”? The way Tanya and the Wahan tribe interacts with the nature and is able to do at least 15 different bird calls is also very interesting and immediately reminds me of how tribes in general are so much more in tune with nature and Earth. Having heard some types of tribal music in person, I assure you that this is not a figment of imagination on Arthdal Chronicles’ part.
I know some people had also complained of how wasteful it was for the Daekan troops to capture and kill so many tribes people, only to kill them needlessly and thoughtlessly. But I thought this was exactly the point – slaves were thought of as commodities and goods to be traded. They were expendable. If the people in Arthdal had respected them as humans, they wouldn’t even have enslaved them in the first place. Would they really have cared that they lost so many lives in the process of obtaining slaves? No, their only concern would be the loss of profit, which was brought up in the show. My gripe however, is that I wished someone had at least reminded those idiots that they spent 10 freaking long years to get down to the Salt Road. They should jolly well not kill 99% of the people they had brought back.
I had also read some comments of people who were uncomfortable with the notion that the writers seemed to have used a mix of Filipino, Malay, perhaps Hindi and other Indian dialects in creating the language of the tribes. This perpetuates the notion that these people are inferior. I had given much thought about this and true, this could have been casual racism on the writers’ parts. But at the same time, I felt like it was possible that the writers had simply chosen languages which were near to Korea geographically and of the same language system. Throwing in Mandarin or Japanese sounding words into the tribes’ language would throw the system off, and it wouldn’t have made much sense if they had based it off European languages. Could they have avoided this by simply creating new languages? Of course. What are your thoughts on this?.
Diving deeper, I’m in awe of how complex the storyline was, never once seeing it as thin, predictable or boring as some have claimed (I’m not even sure if we are watching the same show at this point??). Beyond the social commentary on colonialism as I’ve mentioned above, I also totally appreciate the idea that the power passes through the mother of the tribe. Men always being the strongest, the fastest and the most powerful is just a social construct – the show picked the female to be the most powerful, even if not the strongest, to show that not everything is about the physical strength, and that it can be those with the mental or intellect strength who welds true power. It’s not just Tanya, even Taealha is a woman who refuses to bow down to patriarchy. She’s ruthless and she’s in love and the drama shows us that a woman in love can be just as strong and smart, not reduced to a weakling. Taealha’s bodyguard is also a strong female, quick on her feet and deadly with her sword. These two characters are by no means good people, but I love their presence in the show just because well, not all women are good too. We are just humans.
Because I’d seen Saya as one of the three leads (the other two being Eunseom and Tanya), I didn’t think that it was weird to have our ‘main lead’ suffering in the dungeons for a good few episodes. I think the writers had wanted Saya to shine in his own right, not just being a look-alike of Eun Seom and the only way to do that is for us to understand his side of the story and his world. He’s also a variable thrown into the mix, given how unpredictable he can be when he wants his way. He also stands for a different purpose – while Eunseom would want peace, Saya wants Igutus to be supreme. This kinda reminds me of the debate between Professor X and Magneto haha and it would definitely be interesting to see how the dynamics will shift once the three leads come together.
Each episode is also tightly-paced and the ball of power changes hands so quickly that it ends up in one place completely unanticipated at the start of the episode. Alliances are broken as quickly as they are made, and relationships are maintained only if something of value is traded in return. The writers had also kept harping from the start that the Wahan Tribe spoke the same language as the people in Arthdal; the fact that this later made sense in light of who was the Great White Wolf and Asa Sin, was awesome.
The show also clearly thought far ahead enough, to keep alive exactly 1 female Neanthal, who may I add, is not being coerced into procreation or joining the tribe by the men? She may choose to do so in the end nonetheless, out of a a sense of duty for her people, but that’s with her own agency. I feel like she would; after all, Eun Seom’s father had foreseen a blue fire and I’ve come to associate blue with the Neanthals.
I’ve come to my final point of gushing (oh lord hahahaha please forgive me for this heavily one-sided post, but I had wanted to talk more about the good than the bad) – which is the ending of Episode 12 that really brought everything together in terms of plot. I was mindblown you all. I mean, we knew she had to learn the dance, that she could mimic bird calls and that she could fling the stones – but who knew this would all come together to culminate in her getting the bell?? I certainly didn’t, and I loved that ending which I thought was a really apt and good way to send off the series for now.
Not quite sure if the Netflix method of chopping up stories is totally advisable though – there’s no reason for it to be in ‘seasons’ like the American counterparts. KDramas are intended to be short, sweet and enjoyed in one sitting – whether they are good or bad, they are over in a certain number of episodes and that’s that. I think this is a really good story but I’m just not sure if enough people will come back to it after it starts airing again. I only hope they will! I’m also not saying that Hotel Del Luna doesn’t deserve its high ratings (in case you didn’t know, Hotel Del Luna took over the Arthdal Chronicles time slot and had achieved way higher ratings in its current run), but it’s such a pity that Arthdal just isn’t rated higher/highly. I feel like it had definitely deserved it.
Alrightie, I’m going to go off now but I will (definitely? hopefully?) be back with a finale review! Can’t wait for this to start again!