First Impressions: “Rebel: Thief Who Stole The People”

Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People” is a new MBC Monday-Tuesday drama starring Yoon Kyun Sang, Kim Ji Suk, Honey Lee, and Chae Soo Bin. The drama is based on the life of Hong Gil Dong, a popular Korean literary figure — with ties to a real-life person — who stole from nobles in order to help the poor. It’s a well-loved story in Korea with plenty of adaptations in drama and film, so it’ll be interesting to see what MBC brings to this latest version. Let’s go ahead and take a look at the first couple of episodes.

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Production Value

Hong Gil Dong’s story occurs during Joseon times with most adaptations including a version of his rough childhood, him later forming a band of followers who run around stealing, and him eventually taking on a king. Just knowing the basics of most Hong Gil Dong stories, viewers can already expect a Joseon setting with plenty of costumes and specific shoot locations, along with a decent amount of action for all the thieving and fighting.

In “Rebel,” MBC’s current version, Hong Gil Dong is the second child of a servant family working for a lord with ties to the palace. The costumes used during the first two episodes are pretty basic attire, with whites and minimum color, while the few nobles who appear wear deeper colors. The most flamboyant or eclectic outfits we’ll probably see will be the clothes of the royal family.

The drama takes place initially in a small compound owned by a noble with his large staff, including Hong Gil Dong’s family. During the first two episodes, young Gil Dong has no last name and follows around his family as they do their work. We get an excellent look at the life of servants and the working environments, in contrast to the few shots of Honey Lee and Kim Ji Suk (the king) in their palace.

My favorite thing about these first episodes is the cinematography. It took me about two minutes to know that I was going to appreciate every shot of this drama. There are some incredible shots of mountains, and some of the scenes in the noble’s compound were so impressive. I could praise the cinematography for an entire article; the aesthetics of “Rebel” are, thus far, A+.

rebel mountains

Another part of this drama I’m anticipating that doesn’t appear much in the beginning is the action, which I know is coming. The first few minutes were a giant tease, a big “look at these amazing events to come,” with a shot of a group of men taking on the king. Hong Gil Dong is a thief, and he’s also freakishly strong in “Rebel,” so there have to be amazing action scenes. Sadly, there are none yet, because he’s still a child in the beginning.

Overall, the quality of the drama is definitely at the level I expect of MBC since it’s a big company. The crew put a lot of work into the sets and how they captured each scene. Even though I’m anticipating the appearance of the main cast, I’m still captivated enough that the wait isn’t too painful.


Hong Gil Dong is not an easy character to take on; this character has countless movies, another popular drama, video games, an animation, etc., all based on him, often with their own unique interpretation. The writer of “Rebel” has her work cut out for her; she’s taking on a legend here.

angry hong gil dong

I already gave a rundown of the basics of a Hong Gil Dong story, but “Rebel” brings a few twists right from the beginning. The drama is about a boy named Gil Dong who turns out to be the illegitimate son of a nobleman; he goes on to become a thief who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, eventually clashing with a tyrannical king named Lee Yoong, or Yeonsangun (Kim Ji Suk).

The drama opens with a look at the main cast, showing scenes of a king who has issues with Hong Gil Dong and his concubine supposedly knowing Gil Dong, hints of a battle where the two men come face to face, and the appearance of a captured woman the king claims is Hong Gil Dong’s lover and her supposed death. It’s a lot to take in during the first few minutes, but things calm down because from there we get introduced to little Gil Dong.


Like many historical dramas, “Rebel” uses the first few episodes to set up the history of a man driven to take on the nobility and eventually become a revolutionary activist. Gil Dong is the second son of a peasant named Amogae (nameless one, played by Kim Sang Joong), only viewers hear a story about how a nobleman’s child who was rumored to be something called the “mighty child” supposedly died and was buried. The story includes a little tidbit about the child having strong bones, and after hearing this, Gil Dong’s father immediately checks his child’s back. Can we get more obvious?

Gil Dong is blessed with a pretty happy family, despite getting taken advantage of by the nobleman they work for. Gil Dong is an honest kid who loves his family deeply, and he is inhumanly strong; he nearly snaps a log in half until his father stops him. Besides trying to keep Gil Dong’s strength a secret and Amogae getting frustrated with his boss, life is pretty simple. However, Amogae befriends the wrong crowd and comes into wealth he didn’t earn. Others become jealous of this wealth, and this causes a chain reaction that jeopardizes Gil Dong’s family.


This is all in the first two episodes. The next episode’s preview hints at more trying times for Gil Dong’s family, but also his father wearing fine clothes. It seems straightforward, and the first few minutes of the first episode give a clear indication that we can expect exciting times to come for our protagonist. In other words, don’t fret the back-story stuff. An evil king, love story, and plenty of action is coming to “Rebel” soon.

Cast and Characters

I love stories that involve Hong Gil Dong. Is it not obvious? I grew up with tales of Robin Hood and still enjoy reading the latest theories about him and discoveries of references. Both are figures found in old literature whom scholars believed to be based off of real people. This means that even though Hong Gil Dong is taken from a famous Joseon novel, his character is still open to interpretation.

hong gil dong on a hill

No matter what movies or dramas you’ve seen about him, Rebel’s Hong Gil Dong will definitely show us something new. This particular Hong Gil Dong is also played by Yoon Kyun Sang; it’s his first starring role in a drama. There is a lot of anticipation for Yoon Kyun Sang’s performance in this drama, not just because he’s a talented actor, but also because he’s an actor many drama fans have seen grow with each role. I first watched him play a side character in SBS’s “The Great Doctor” in 2012 before he moved up to second-lead in SBS’s “Doctors.” I’m really cheering for him in this performance.


Kim Ji Suk is playing the main villain and evil king of this period drama. While I’m excited to see Yoon Kyun Sang star, I’m also anticipating Kim Ji Suk playing the tyrannical king. He was one of my favorite side-characters in “Another Oh Hae Young,” where he was great at comic relief. Tyrannical kings don’t typically provide comedy, but watching him go crazy as he loses face to Hong Gil Dong and become a great villain will be a fun watch. He’s definitely got the talent.


Hong Gil Dong’s father is played by Kim Sang Joong. His is a name that immediately piques my interest in a cast. He’s been slaying his characters since 1998 and has won numerous awards, especially in recent years. He just gets better as an actor and Amogae is no exception. Despite Hong Gil Dong being the star of the show, the first two episodes were definitely driven by Amogae (Kim Sang Joong). This character has a short time to transform from a caring family man to a heartless noble, and he’s doing an excellent job of it.

“Rebel,” thus far, has a very strong male cast and even little Lee Ro Woon is doing a great job as young Gil Dong. This leaves me a little anxious about the female cast. Shin Eun Jung demonstrated her acting charms in the role of Gil Dong’s mother. However, the two main females have yet to appear. We only got one scene of Honey Lee in her role and she seemed to play her cold-hearted court-woman role well, but there was a clear indication that she will have another role in this story. The other lead female is played by Chae Soo Bin (whom many may recognize from KBS’s “Moonlight Drawn by Clouds“). This is also her first time as a lead, so it’ll be interesting to see the chemistry between her character and Hong Gil Dong in future episodes, before he shoots her in the chest with an arrow.

That initial minute preview was rough.

arrow hong gil dong

While many of the older actors in this drama are well-established, the younger actors are fairly new to being in the spotlight. I’m hesitant to expect great things from some of the acting, but also curious to see how they develop during this production. This is one of those dramas where I’m rooting for the actors just as much as I’m anticipating how the story develops.

Final Thoughts

My fingers and toes are crossed for this one. Not every Hong Gil Dong story gets a happy ending like the Joseon novel. This stresses me out a lot, but also makes watching more exciting. “Rebel” has already shown some interesting changes and developments so I plan on watching. We haven’t even gotten to see Yoon Kyun Sang become a thief in the night and a fighter for justice.

More than a nice love story, I want a good fight scene. “Rebel,” don’t let me down.

What were your thoughts on the first few episodes of Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People”?

Let us know in the comments below!

Watch the latest episode of the drama here:

heytoto currently teaches ELL in Seoul, and when she isn’t waiting in line for something, can be found drinking a latte.

How does this article make you feel?