Revolving around Korea’s insurgence against Japanese colonial rule, ‘Song of the Bandits,’ Netflix’s South Korean historical action show, brings a story about rebellion packed with classic Western imagery. After Lee-yoon takes his leave from the Japanese army, where he served alongside his former master, Major Kwang-il, he finds himself joining forces with Choi Chung-soo, an ex-Righteous Army fighter with numerous Joseon people depending on him. Together, the two vow to protect their people and gather a group of outcasts with nothing left to lose. However, as the Japanese army continues to target Independence fighters, Lee-yoon and his bandits find themselves entangled in the bigger picture after crossing paths with assassin Eon Nyeon-i and undercover insurgent Nam Hee-shin.
The show heavily utilizes the historical significance of its setting, highlighting the socio-political environment that the characters reside within. As such, since the where and when of ‘Song of the Bandits’ plays such a crucial role in its overall narrative, viewers must be curious to learn more about the same. If so, here is everything you need to know about the time and place in which this show takes place. SPOILERS AHEAD!
When Does Song of the Bandits Take Place?
Following the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905, the narrative focuses on the aftermath of Japan’s annexation, wherein the Joseon people were forced to live under the rule of the Japanese Empire. Amidst Japan’s early occupation, one of the army soldiers, Lee-yoon, who had followed his “master,” Kwang-il, into the army, decides to take his leave, plagued by the horrors of his actions.
In 1915, Lee-yoon sought Chung-soo out and crossed paths with Nyeon-i. The year sets some roots down for the characters and their coming future as it oversees the inception of Lee-yoon’s bandits and entangles Nyeon-i into the lives of the two men. Yet, the bulk of the show unfolds five years later, in 1920. With added years of experience and reputation under their belt, Lee-yoon and his bandits have become a force to be reckoned with.
Furthermore, after so many years under Japanese rule, strong rebellious sentiments started to brew among the Joseon Independence fighters. Within the politically tumultuous time period, the narrative cleverly employs Western elements to depict the Josenian’s struggle for freedom. Thus, it delivers a genre-appropriate battle between good and evil while still maintaining nuances of moral ambiguity.
As such, the period setting of ‘Song of the Bandits’ within the early 1920s is instrumental to the show’s overall storyline. Discussing the same with The Korean Times, director Hwang Jun-hyuk said, “The period series set during the Japanese imperialism era is made with a sense of gravity. This story holds the fundamental theme and, at the same time, will give you the catharsis of the action genre. The sentiment and pain of losing one’s homeland runs throughout the series.” Therefore, in the midst of the 1920s, ‘Song of the Bandits’ finds its perfect backdrop for a tale of full-fledged insurgence.
Where Does Song of the Bandits Take Place?
Much like the narrative’s time period, Lee-yoon’s geographical location presents a vital driving force for the story. For the most part, the show unfolds within Gyeongseong, modern-day Soeul, and Gando, modern-day Jiandao, areas. Lee-yoon travels from his hometown, Gyeongseong, to Gando after leaving the army in search of penance and Chung-soo. Within the Chinese-owned land of lawlessness, Lee-yoon finds both.
Near Gando, in a village called Taepyeong-dong, Lee-yoon and Chung-soo form their bandit group and task themselves to guard the Orangkae Pass. Later, Hee-shin’s covert plan of stealing Japanese railroad funds for Insurgent activities brings her— and an avalanche of trouble to Gando.
Due to Gando’s unique geo-political location, the land affords a certain amount of freedom to its residents, which invites subsequent chaos. Gando’s land comes under China’s nation, but due to its heavy Joseon population, the town is under the negotiated watch of the Japanese. As a result of this triad of identities, Gando sets the stage for the narrative’s Wild Western landscape.