The Korea Herald


[Herald Review] 'Uncle Samsik' features tightly woven plot, allusions to Korean history

By Lee Yoon-seo

Published : May 18, 2024 - 16:01

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A scene from A scene from "Uncle Samsik," starring Song Kang-ho (Disney+)

Disney+ original series "Uncle Samsik," which marks "Parasite" star Song Kang-ho's debut in a drama series, features a tightly constructed plot and superb acting by veteran actors. It also deals with themes and metaphors that may prove challenging for international audiences to fully appreciate.

Set in the late 1950s in a war-torn South Korea, the 16-part series tells the story of Kim San (played by Byun Yo-han), a young government official who dreams of transforming the country into an industrial powerhouse, by implementing his self-devised National Reconstruction Proposal.

After announcing his plans, Kim is approached by Park Doo-chill (played by Song Kang-ho), who offers to help him achieve his plan. In the series, Park is more widely known by his nickname, Uncle Samsik.

The first five episodes of the drama series feature an intricately constructed plot, making it easy for viewers to follow the main story despite its heavy themes, multitude of characters and constantly shifting timeline.

A scene from A scene from "Uncle Samsik," starring Byun Yo-han (left) and Song Kang-ho (Disney+)

Addressing complex topics such as modern Korean history, politics and the economy, "Uncle Samsik" is a challenging watch.

The series also presents a diverse array of characters enlisted by Uncle Samsik to assist Kim in his endeavors, including National Assembly representatives, chaebol chiefs, military officials and gangsters.

Additionally, the timeline frequently shifts, incorporating flashbacks to explain the characters' motifs in depth.

Despite these potentially confusing elements, however, the clear and engaging main plot, which ties all the events and characters together, allows viewers to watch the series without too much difficulty.

Another notable aspect of this piece is the actors' performances.

Song sets the tone of the series -- which could have felt exceedingly serious to those watching casually -- by skillfully portraying a multifaceted character who is politically astute and strategic, but at the same time somewhat comical.

Byun also convincingly portrays the gradual process of Kim San's transformation from a kindhearted government official to an ambitious politician.

Another standout performance comes from Lee Kyu-hyung, who embodies conflicted lawmaker Kang Seong-min.

While portraying a coldhearted politician capable of ruthlessly eliminating those standing in his way, Lee also convincingly depicts a fragile young man who is haunted by trauma, anxiety and guilt stemming from his involvement in multiple murders.

A scene from A scene from "Uncle Samsik," starring Lee Kyu-hyung (left) and Song Kang-ho (Disney+)

However, despite the persuasive acting and intricately crafted plot, it remains uncertain whether "Uncle Samsik" will resonate with overseas audiences.

The drama series is rich with allusions that will mostly strike a chord with Koreans and those versed in Korean history.

For example, various references to Korea's past presidents are made with Kim San's character and his National Reconstruction Proposal. Also, a number of historical events that took place in Korea's modern history, such as Rhee Syng-man being reelected as president for a fourth term, are alluded to throughout the narrative.

Currently, the first five episodes of "Uncle Samsik" are available for streaming on Disney+. Two new episodes will be released every Wednesday.