The Next Fantasy Epic?
I watch a lot of Korean drama and Arthdal Chronicles is a tough one to nail down. Flitting between fantasy brilliance and confusing timelines with expository-heavy dialogue, Arthdal Chronicles gets off to an intriguing start in its opening 80 minute episode.
Set in the mythical land of Arth, Arthdal Chronicles begins with a brief prologue involving a cursed baby and a blue snake before cutting back to show a tribal group of humans running from a superhuman creature. As swords clash and the creature moves around at breakneck speed, we’re graced by some narration that does its best to fill in the blanks before cutting across to one of the key scenes in this first episode.
A meeting of two clans takes place atop a large hill between The Saram and the blue-eyed Neanthal. Together they try to come to arrangements and join forces and after some initial push back, the promise of agriculture and a more powerful clan appears to sway the minds of the Neanthal. Unfortunately, they reject the offer and walk away. With war looming on the horizon, Sanung, leader of The Saram, sends Asa Hon to the clan while they’re out celebrating the crescent moon festival, with gifts of fabric covered in disease. Blissfully unaware and visibly sickened when everyone becomes ill, she remains the only one standing, clutching her child in fear as she realizes what her tribe have done. The Saram become cruel in their fear and begin hunting the Neanthal.
Led by the charismatic Tagon, one of the Neanthal warriors is defeated by an arrow to the neck while the rest of the soldiers swarm around and bury their arrows into his stomach. As bright blue blood oozes from his cuts, with his dying breath he tells the clans they will die at the hands of each other.
This leads us back to Asa Hon who awakens from a nightmare and runs off with her baby clutched in her hands. She runs through forests and across grass plains until she reaches a cave down to the land where the gods do not control, Iark.
Meanwhile, back with The Saram, Tagon leads the tribe into a toast and they drink together. However, despite The Great Hunt being a success, Sanung discusses the next plans with the council. He casts his eye on Iark while lamenting the lack of manpower he has for their growing tribe.
During this time, 10 years have passed and Asa Hon and her son, Eunseom make it to the bottom of the cliffs. With the ground scorching their feet, Asa carries her son across the barren, hot wasteland called the Sea Of Tears. They make it to a forest where Eunseom scares off a pack of wolves looking to take advantage of a tired and hurt Asa. Hissing at the pack, a large brown wolf descends from the trees in retaliation and launches itself at the young boy whose saved at the last second by another tribal group. Asa then regains consciousness for enough time to realize her visions have come to fruition. The flowers, the boy, the one who sings; all of it was designed to bring Eunseom to Iark.
We then jump forward in time once again to find Eunseom as a teenager, awakening from a nightmare to find the clan members looking over him.
Dubbed by some as the Korean Game Of Thrones, Arthdal Chronicles gets off to a pretty good start, despite some confusing editing and jumping time frames. Admittedly there is a lot of expository dialogue and some of the quirky Korean humour doesn’t always land given the serious tone of the series but the gorgeous visuals and intriguing story should be enough to keep you watching. It’s far too early into the lifespan of this one to judge too harshly on the story but as an introduction to this strange, gorgeous world, Arthdal does enough to keep you hooked for the next episode.
Given how much money was poured into this one, Arthdal Chronicles has a lot riding on it but there’s no doubting that the visuals are absolutely gorgeous. The saturated hue clinging to large swathes of the show and the musical score echo glimmers of The Witcher here, along with a little bit of Game Of Thrones and a lot of Korean lore, all blended together to make Arthdal Chronicles a very intriguing prospect indeed. With the foundation now set for the series to follow, only time will tell whether this Korean epic can live up to the hype.