The Merchant Gaekju Episode Review
Synopsis: Merchant Gaekju is a 41 episode Korean drama becoming a great merchant. Our lead rejects following his father’s path of becoming a great merchant as a boy. As an adult he realizes being an honorable merchant is worth pursuing. Along the way he makes friends and enemies who are threatened by his natural merchant aptitude. He also meets two women, one that loves him and he returns her feelings, and one that loves him but friendship is all he can offer.
Nutshell Summary: Merchant Gaekju starts when our leading man is boy. He is cruelly separated from his father and sister and must find his own way. As a man, begins to realize his father’s profession of being a merchant is a natural fit for him. Our lead assumes others are honorable and trustworthy like he is. Of course, when money and power are concerned, greed and unethical behavior follow. Fate puts him the path of a wily Head Merchant who blocks success in business and his love life. Those he considers friends, often work against him without his knowledge. Will his innate sense of merchant’s ethics win or will others driven by greed take him down?
1. Our leading man, Bong Sam (Jang Hyuk) was the moral compass, the lighting rod, and the hero of this series. Bong Sam grew to love being a merchant and realized his father’s path was the path he would walk as well. I’ll be frank, Jang Hyuk is the best actor in Korean in my opinion and elevates any series he is in. This series needed him as the anchor. The other characters revolved around Bong Sam. They wanted to love him, befriend him, defeat him, or kill him. Bong Sam had a blind spot to the treachery in others. He couldn’t see their machinations against him. Why? Because he was honest about his feelings and belief and assumed others were just like him. He could not conceive of a friend betraying him. This put him in jeopardy. There were times you wanted tell Bong Sam to open his eyes to the real motives of others. He did finally buy a clue, but it was long in coming for some characters.
2. Friends. Bong Sam offer friendship and loyalty. Some did the same.
* Gol Dae – He was one character that didn’t fail Bong. This big lug of a man appeared to not be the smartest but he was smarter than he looked. More often than not Gol Dae called it like he saw it and he was often right. More importantly, he stood by Bong Sam through thick and thin. I grew to love this character.
* Sung Joo – He was a friend and mentor. He took Bong Sam in as a boy and helped guide and raise him. When Bong Sam struck out on his own, their worlds crossed multiple times in the series and each time, Sung Joo supported, challenged and saved Bong Sam.
* So Sa – She was the love of Bong Sam’s life. She was quiet and unassuming and a bit boring. Bong Sam loved her and she loved him. Theirs was not a grand passion. They didn’t look at each other and ooze longing. The little matter of her marriage slowed things down. This character did have moments of moxy. My favorites – convincing her father to free her from obligations, seducing Bong Sam, and telling the Head Merchant she was divorcing him. To her detriment she had a blind spot to some characters e.g. the Head Merchant, and did not articulate the evil of other characters in a timely manner e.g. Mae Wol.
* So Rye – She was Bong Sam’s long lost sister. As a young girl she left young boy Bong Sam while he was in the throes of a disease and lost touch after that. Her penance? She lived with their father’s enemy to get revenge. Unfortunately the pace of the revenge was slow. She wasn’t the greatest sister or brightest merchant, but she had heart and never wavered in her desire to find her brother and revive her father’s business.
3. Foes. Bong Sam offered friendship and loyalty. Not everyone returned the favor. They spiced up the series and offered challenge after challenge for Bong Sam to overcome.
* Mae Wol (Park Eun Hye) – She had a single obsession – Bong Sam. Sometimes she helped him. Sometimes she hurt him. But she only wanted his love. Unfortunately Bong Sam’s wife stood in the way. Mae Wol had fluid morals when it came to getting Bong Sam. Eun Hye was superior in this role. Astonishing that with all Mae Wol’s evil machinations, you still felt empathy for her. That’s the mark of a good actor.
* Head Merchant
* So Gae (Yu Oh Seong)
* Hak Joon (Kim Hak Cheol) – This guy did some terrible things but he did them with the heart of a toddler having a tantrum. He was actually likable at times.
* The assistants (Maeng Goo Bum – They were Frick and Frack to whatever master they served. Though without a tongue Frick was practically clairvoyant and Frack could always decipher and translate Frick’s words.
* Sun Dol (Jung Tae Woo) – What a pity the writer trashed this character by having him turn on Bong Sam. I realize a new Head Merchant was needed but suddenly Sun Dol was transformed into a noble and willing to do what it took to beat Bong Sam who he felt had shamed him by taking his merchant’s license. I wish the writer had gone a different path for the next Head Merchant. Sun Dol wasn’t compelling or maybe I was reeling with the abrupt about face of this character, so his overnight transformation from friend to foe did not ring true.
If the viewer were not a Jang Hyuk fan, would you still recommend this series?
I’m butting in to say – I’m kookoo for Hyuk and I barely survived watching this mess! It’s a miracle that my tv’s survived anyway. At least I managed not to throw a show and crack a screen.
Sounds like a royal mess! 😱
It has been awhile since I saw this drama … Jang Hyuk was definitely the draw. I was so confused about what was going on in this drama that I Googled for understanding, which is how I found Amusing to begin with. KJT’s recaps helped me gasp what was going on. So glad I found you KJT ❤️, I’ve been a fan ever since.
Jang Hyuk pulled this drama together. Gol Dae was my favorite support character; so true of a friend that he sacrificed himself for Bong Sam, which was the most poignant moment I remember.
The villains were running on Everyready batteries … they kept coming and coming … I got weary of villains winning. The head merchant never stopped pitying himself against Bong Sam. Only in the end did Mae Wol finally stop her machinations, which were her form of showing her twisted love. Sun Dol was the worst villain … pretending to be a friend while betraying Bong Sam behind his back.
I ultimately enjoyed watching it, but it was too long, slow moving and too many wins for the villains for me to watch it again. I would only recommend it to die-hard Hyuk-sters.
LikeLiked by 1 person
This drama was so bad that, having no understanding of editing, producing, and directing myself – I felt like this was a crash course in what NOT to do. I suddenly understood how important the director is because of how certain scenes were staged. Like couldn’t everyone see the guy “hiding” “behind” the rock when he planted that snake in the tent?
Anyway, I actually came to your site, kjt, to see if you had watched and reviewed Hyuky’s latest Blood River? Scratch that. Actual title “Tomb of the River”. Same thing. It could actually be called “Tomb of the Bloody Stabby River.
Which drama are u watching these days… Any chance you gonna watch alchemy of souls??