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Move over Ajussi, City Hunter, Masked Rider Black, Shaider, Spiderman, Superman, Batman… and all the rest of those superheroes who took the imaginary world by storm… Gaksital has only a  flute and superb martial arts move, but for the first time in my life, I fell in love with a local hero.

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Dear Gaksital,

I follow Lunar Calendar year, can I make it up by saying “I was saving the BEST for last”.  *sheepishsmile  I judged too soon.  I know that.  I was all swept by Lee Min Ho’s pretty face that’s why I set you aside, and what a sweet payback for you because you will make me update all my 2012 year-end ramblings. 

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A bromance defying all bromance invented… *giggles  Every episode, if not the same intensity as the last, always ended at a very strong note.  Boasting with its powerful stunts and whoa!-fight-scenes, my feminine lines were stripped.  Actually I don’t know what martial arts they used but the camera caught fist throwings, kick stretchings, gun shootings, sword wieldings in a thrilling and perfectly executed fashion that my jaw literally dropped and I just found myself immensely enjoying the gun shots, punch sounds, skin rips, sword slashes, blood spatters, and cat-and-mouse chase… In other words I embraced the dark side while I was watching it.  *evilgrin

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The mise-en-scene of this drama really got me feeling what it was like 60-70 years ago.  I love the wardrobe and fashion.  I love the club entertainment scenes and the circus acts.  Sigh I love everything about the production design. Period.

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Gaksital went to this milieu… “I accidentally killed my brother because our mother was killed by my bestfriend’s brother.  So I killed my bestfriend’s brother, but he caught me doing it and because of the circumstances and my family’s past which was just revealed to me when I have already denounced my patriotism to favor the Japanese empire, I’m not sorry I did it.  A test of best-friends-forever pledge.  Yes, that it was.  How’s that for a conflict?  Not to add that they both love the same girl whom they met when they were young.  Avenging the death of their family members, first love duel plus fighting the Japanese regime.  If this looks crazy in writing, it was astonishingly gripping in action.

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Staged in the post-Joseon-Japanese-Annexation era, Gaksital surprised me with its quintessential story and screenplay as well as the stellar portrayals from the characters.  I was reminded of the overwhelming feeling I got when I first saw the costume and set design of Gone With the Wind when I finally submit to liking Gaksital.  And while I was surmising and digesting the circumstances of the story’s premise, I marvel at the pace and intensity each episode rendered all throughout.

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Gaksital was a people’s champion protecting the Joseon people under the abusive Japanese regime.  He was hiding his identity as Lee Kang To’s deranged brother Lee Kang San, a once brilliant youth leader who was tortured by the Japanese empire due to his freedom movement campaign.   After his brother’s supposed mental breakdown, Lee Kang To worked his way to the police ladder thru Shun-ji Kimura’s Kendo teaching lessons.  A special appointment to become a police officer will be given to the winner of a Kendo match, Kang-to and his sensei-friend Shun-ji faced off in the finals but Shun-ji lost in purpose because he wanted to teach children and he knew it was Kang-to’s dream to provide for his family.  Kang-to became a prominent police but infamous to his fellow Joseon people because of his loyalty to the Japanese Governance.

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For him to catch Gaksital, he deduced that the key is to find the girl, Mok Dan/Boon Yi/Esther, whom he has already saved twice.  Once from the deposed Joseon leader’s burial where she threw a stone and the other was when she created a disturbance to the trial of another freedom movement leader Dam Sa Ri, who turned out to be her father.  Mok Dan was finally caught but she was able to flee again after Kang-to saw the knife she was trying to retrieve which was the same knife he gave to his first love Boon-yi aka Mok-dan.   Mok-dan treasured the knife so much because it was given by the young master-friend from her childhood.  Unbeknownst to her, that young master was Lee Kang To of present time, the man she despised most because of his cruelty to his fellow Joseon men.

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Kang-to eventually became best buddies with Shunji Kimura, a local teacher from a famous Samurai family.  His father was also the police chief and his brother was the superintendent in the police station where Kang-to was serving as a Lieutenant.  He has an unrequited love with Mok-dan.  He met her when they were young because she helped him when his nanny was hospitalized and in a twist of fate it’s the same girl Kang-to also loved when he was young. 

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Shunji’s older brother looked and acted like your pro-villain and has been picking on Kang-to because he envied his skills.  His wily thinking accidentally uncovered the probable connection between Kang-to and Gaksital (Kang-san), but Kang-to was not aware that his brother was using his mental retardation front to hide his local superhero role and shot his brother who was beating Ken-ji after the latter shot their mother while she was trying to conceal Kang-san’s identity.  When the truth of what happened dawned on him, in his fury and angst he donned his brother’s mask and clothing to assume Gaksital’s persona to kill his bestfriend’s brother.

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When Kang-to delivered the final blow to end Ken-ji’s life, Shun-ji witnessed it right on cue.  He chased after his bestfriend, but Kang-to fell to a cliff and his body was not retrieved.  He woke up later in the hospital badly beaten and bruised and in his still grief-stricken self, he vowed to make the people responsible for the death of his family pay for it ergo double agent Kang-to-Gaksital was born.

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Shun-ji torn between his filial responsibility and saving the woman he loved was left no option but to take over his late brother’s vacated post to protect Mok-dan who was standing as Gaksital’s bait.  He was switching from stern to defiant to why-am-I-in-this-position identities just so he can assure Mok-dan’s safety.  Kang-to on the other hand was tasked to guard Mok-dan 24/7 and decided to agree to Dam Sa Ri’s request for him to help them out in their plan to oust the Japanese.  But because he was Kang-to he can’t just walk in and tell them that “my family’s unfortunate death changed me overnight, so I am a good boy now”.   So yes my favorite boys here were in a game of who gave up everything for the woman they both love.  *giggles

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I liked that Shun-ji took over the conflicting villain role because Ken-ji was a bore, I hate his evil-looking face but he was a tofu-brainer so at least having Shun-ji faced off Kang-to was a relief because more than the reversal of the bad image role, my new favorite frenemies were on an equal footing when it comes to their skills, intellect and temper.  *chuckles

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So off Kang-to-Gaksital to avenge his father’s death who used to be a member of a covert brotherhood but his brothers betrayed him killing him and his people.  The brotherhood thought they wiped out his family but Kang-to’s family survived.  He also continued his brother’s intentions while using his police badge as a cover and because Boon-yi abhorred him in his uniform, he can only communicate when he’s in Gaksital mode.  She plead him if he can help her father in the plan to cause ruckus in the anniversary of Japan-Joseon annexation, and (because there’s a contest for Mok-dan’s hand) just kidding… because he’s really trying to live upright, he chose to help them.

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Dam Sa Ri and his comrade woman befriended the Joseon royalty couple, thus they were able to get an invitation on the event.  They were plotting a bombing to the event so they needed to raid the police armory to get bombs and guns.  They were able to cause trouble but Dam Sa Ri was captured.  The police went back to Boon-yi because of her connection with Gaksital and Dam Sa Ri, but she already escaped with other freedom movement members. 

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But then Shun-ji’s suspicion of Kang-to was cemented when he overheard him pleading with Dam Sa Ri to spill Boon-yi’s whereabouts.  When Mok-dan escaped with Gaksital in the previous chase by Shun-ji, she left a letter for Gaksital and signed it Boon-yi, and as Kang-to said her childhood name, Shun-ji linked the connection.  Shun-ji put a shadow on his best friend but everytime he’s close to catching his true identity, Kang-to was able to raise arguments to protect his cover.  Shun-ji plotted a trap to catch Gaksital by setting them up in a supposed meeting with Mok-dan’s fellow freedom fighters, Kang-to terrified of what might have become of her went to rescue her in his Lee Kang-to’s persona declaring his love for Mok-dan.  He got interrogated again, but was able to sway his bestfriend’s convictions thanks to his acting skills worthy of an Oscar, Shun-ji again believed him.  Then came their general who commanded Dam Sa Ri’s execution and even asked her to enter the cage full of nails.  (Omg if I lived in that era, I won’t survive long)Stubborn Mok-dan refused to give the information on their fellow freedom fighter’s whereabouts so she bravely agreed to it.  While Kang-to and Shun-ji battled to the horror of seeing the woman they love get tortured, the General decided to send her in the Prosecutor’s office and Dam Sa Ri to the penitentiary.

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On their way to the penitentiary, Dam Sa Ri’s people tried to ambush Kang-to and the rest of the police force, and in the brink of finally getting their leader, Shun-ji fire a gunshot so the exit strategy was thwarted.  Dam Sa Ri was put on extreme surveillance while Mok-Dan was sheltered in the hotel as Shun-ji bargained to retrieve pertinent information about the freedom movement from her but she didn’t budge.  Kang-to tried his luck too, and showing his vulnerability, he finally admitted to Mok-dan that he was the young master she knew from when she was young. 

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Mok-dan can’t accept how the man she was waiting for grew up to become a ruthless person, and remembering how she suffered in his hands, she despised him even more.  Ra Ra, the adopted daughter of Kishokai’s president (an elite dark organization) kidnapped Mok-Dan because she deemed she was a distraction to Shun-ji’s heart and because she was cherished by Kang-to the man she also kept in her heart.  But of course, Gaksital always saved the day and he can’t let his damsel be in distressed so he rescued her and wielded sword towards the non-smiling samurai bodyguard of Ra Ra.  Barely surviving Ra Ra and her protector’s grip, he was carried by his horse to where Mok-dan was. 

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Then fireworks, winged horses and angels sang in the heaven… *giggles Fighting for his consciousness, Mok-dan approached Gaksital and take off the elusive mask… and yes Bingo!  She got the biggest surprise of her life.  In 24 hours, her hatred became a full blown love that defied Japanese torture, pain and time.  Kang-to revealed why he turned 360 degrees from his old vile self and they reconciled and make up for the lost times.

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To avoid Jong Ro (police station) noticing her absence and also Kang-to’s absence, Mok-dan showed up to Shun-ji while Kang-to rested.  Shun-ji was preoccupied with the upcoming public execution plans for Dam Sa Ri and was very determined that he will catch Gaksital if he rescued Dam Sa Ri this time. 

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Public Execution came up and the circus leader stirred a slight upheaval that sparked the spectators emotions, my Shun-ji who I swore was really showing bipolar condition shot the ajumma in Mok-dan’s circus club so the crowd roared and ramble with the police.  The people were contained a little so they proceed with the death sentence. In split second timing, gaksital showed up to strut his heroic act but the officers subdued him to put him in the middle on the spot.  Then he undressed himself to reveal attached bombs in his body… then boom!  Surprise detectives!  You didn’t see that coming!  Then came another Gaksital, this time the true one, and off he rescued the freedom leader leaving Shun-ji wounded and frustrated.

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Time for Kishokai to make their move after failed attempts of the members.  The easiest path was to kill Konno, the police commissioner who favored Kang-to.  So now Kang-to has no family and no friends and will have to rely to his father’s bodyguard, Dam Sa Ri and Mok-dan.  Kishokai placed their people to the upper echelon, appointing Shun-ji’s father in the vacated commissioner position and another member as Jong Ro chief.

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Kang-to saw the man who killed Konno and remembered that he was the same Samurai he fought with when he was trying to save Ra Ra who was then a lowly gisaeng.  He drew the probabilities of what’s happening by the pieces of information he was getting with Ra Ra. 

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Shun-ji learned from Koiso (police officer) that his brother killed Kang-to’s mother and because he was not yet sure whether his friend knew about it, he decided to have his frenemy closer.  It’s good that the characters were quick to uptake.  I lost count how Shun-ji went back and forth to his inference relating Gaksital and his friend that I settled to the idea that well eventually he will know it.

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Yang Baek, a famous Joseon patriot and hero came back with Dam Sa Ri to Kyeong-seong.  They are set to make another attempt to fight the Imperial government.  While they were regrouping with other Independence campaign groups, Shun-ji’s growing doubts of Lee Kang-to’s identity reached finally the peak after failed attempt to make Ra Ra confessed about it.  When Gaksital helped rescue a reporter working for Joseon Independence group, he purposely used Kishokai President’s samurai warrior to hurt Gaksital, and when he laid motionless after barely escaping the fight, he finally… yes finally!  confirmed his suspicion.  For a moment there, I saw that glint in his eyes of still hoping that it was not the friend he treasured, but insanity, cruelty and betrayal got into him… so there I have to let go of Shun-ji.

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So they resorted to jedi-mindtricking now… anticipating each other’s move while knowing that they have to outwit each other.  Shun-ji feigned ignorance of Kang-to’s front to try and get the rest of the freedom people but they lost their track to the liberation legion.

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Before the waning of the story, I was still hoping that Shun-ji would go back to his smiling and good-natured self.  I was wishing that you know friendship and rationality will make him realized he’s on a wrong boat.  But then again Gaksital has always been a story of patriotism, friendship, love, family bond and how much you value those things.  So given his Ilbon roots, I understood that there was really no way out for him but to yield to what has been previously decided fate by his father.

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So freedom movement was all set in their plans while their counterparts were trying to capture them.  I love how the mind games formed the building of final conflict in the story.  They were misleading and leaving false trails to confuse the police department, but the strength of the Imperial force was not that easy to be defeated.

When Gaksital sided with freedom fighters, it was a relief for him to finally get people to fight with him, because hello?   I’m tired of making him fight bunch of people ALONE.  `

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So it all comes down to frenemies Shun-ji and Kang-to both realizing that they know what’s the score and it would a contest of “may the best man win”.  It’s Kang-to with the Freedom Fighters and Shun-ji with Kishokai members.  Freedom Fighters needed money and weapons to proceed with their plans, they were able to secure the money by defeating Kishokai but when they robbed the police’ armory, Shun-ji finally took off Gaksital’s mask.  He was rescued from the torture chamber by his fellow freedom group and gave a meaningful there’s-no-going-back-goddbye-bestfriend look to him. 

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Freedom alliance camped at Dong-jin leader’s group to prepare for the uprising.  Yang-baek will leave Kyeong-seong to get help from China as Dong-jin’s men will launch a rebellion inside the country.  Meanwhile the evil group will be baiting the insurgents by killing the comrades they imprisoned so Kang-to-Gaksital was left no choice but to take care of so it won’t hinder the main plan.  Shun-ji tracked his hide-out so Kang-to was also determined to finally get a payback from Shunji’s father who set up the ambush to kill his father.  In the end, it was Gaksital can’t live while his villains survive… aw So Harry Potter-ish. 

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The finale episodes saddened me because in the end Kang-to killed Shun-ji’s father to avenge his father’s demise.  It was so heartbreaking how their friendship has come to an end and after their fist fight where Kang-to still can’t make himself to kill his bestfriend I was worried on what would become of Shun-ji. Oh and the samurai fending Ra Ra finally talked declaring his love to her… better late than never huh?  I don’t know why they got so stressed out with that old man villain who just sat in the duration of the series and just went furious on their failed attempts to stop the mutiny… Duh? He’s old!  Ra Ra could have just thrown a knife at him.  *giggles

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It was a closure befitting to the brilliance of this narrative.  I liked how both parties maneuvered the spies they plotted at the most important arcs of the story.  When Freedom Fighters interfered in the sending of college students to join the Imperial army battling Manchuria, Shun-ji schemed student-spies on their side to report the other camp’s plan.  While Mok-dan was walking down the aisle to marry Lee Kang To, the Imperial police were also marching to raid the hide out.  Shun-ji rushed to where the wedding was happening and saw the bride and groom blissfully smiling.  He triggered his gun pointing at Kang-to but Mok-dan saw it and covered her body on him.  *sniff *sniff  At this time my aunt was annoying me because the rest of the men in the camp were pulverized by the army.  I kept telling her they were taken by surprise and more than fighting back they have to back off for the mean time.  When the heroes’ spirit were shattered into pieces, I don’t know how they will bounce back because they only have 45 minutes to wrap up the series and all I got was the lead girl dying to shield the man she loved.

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It was a series of retaliation where you can’t even question its impetus.  It was an incessant exchange of killing for both Kang-to and Shun-ji.  After mourning over his beloved’s passing, Kang-to stood up to fulfill Mok-dan’s dream to become a beacon of light to his fellow Joseon people.  He set forth to kill the old man leader of Kishokai who has been influencing the fortifying of the Japanese governance. 

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Then he went to Shun-ji’s house and they had some drama and tea.  Shun-ji gave him their wedding picture as both of them felt the searing anguish of realizing her death.  Then they went to business as Kang-to enumerated how many people died in his hands.  They agreed on their final duel and if I may say bitterly and calmly.  Shun-ji asked Kang-to to go to the yard, and as Kang-to was walking away, he shot himself to die.  *sooooob 

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Then we switch to freedom fighters in full swing with their final attempt for Independence and we saw a montage of Joseon people marching to claim their freedom.

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1 night and 2 days depicted Joo Won in his human adorable self, and in his bad boy and impeccable Lee Kang To performance, he won me over convincingly.  He gracefully danced, he sweetly sang in a humiliating-PSY-kind-of-way and he gorgeously kicked asses.   He was reckless, uncaring and has put up a strong face because of the hard life he’s been through.  Temperamental outside but frail and kind-hearted inside…

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Another second-lead-syndrome, Shun-ji broke my heart by how fast his escalation from goodness to Voldemort-self was.  He was teaching children how to sing one day and the next day he was beating people to death like a mad man.  *facepalm Why?  Why do I always fall in love with the wrong guy? *sigh  Shun-ji slowly destroyed himself in his effort to please his father and to find the culprit who ended his brother’s life.  His failing to connect the dots on Gaksital’s identity was more of because his mind was not accepting a feasible ill-fated confrontation with his best friend.  His unrequited love with the woman who loved his nemesis triggered his complete embracing of the dark side.

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Gaksital has held me at the edge of my seat on how they perfectly executed the endings where Shun-ji almost-but-not-quite uncovered those Gaksital-could-be-my-bff attempts.  The ladies gave a decent performance although at some point Mok-dan’s stubbornness annoyed me but I cried when she died.  I was hoping for an ever after but a hero needed to bleed and the pain of losing her will inevitably strengthen him to defeat the baddies.  The rest of the supporting cast helped out to make the presentation the most fluid and chemistry-filled cast ensembles. 

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There are a lot of reasons why I would highly recommend this drama but I’ll start with its strength to depict a stimulating story brimming with facets of history and layered with conflicts and resolutions that disheartened and made me happy at the same time.  It was as if my father’s World War stories came to life, and I can only imagine how life was hard back then.    I’m enjoying period dramas lately, there’s just so much to learn that’s why maybe.

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Gaksital was the best written and directed drama for 2012.  It has so much depth and substance and youth of today will learn a lot from it.  It was an epic tale that perfectly bloomed along with the characters and was so successful in sending out the Patriotic theme where love, loyalty, family and friendship where at stake.  Gaksital made me realized how living at present time in comfort was such a blessing knowing that the way we are living right now was because of the sacrifices and hardwork of our ancestors. 

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A must to watch… I hope they will continue producing dramas like this.  -jediprincess

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Living a life while looking at someone who can’t love you back is misfortune.

The price of sin, though slow, will be paid without fail. 

4 Comments

  1. Another 5 star recap/review, abby. I love reading your recaps straight after I complete a drama (K-drama only makes sense when you enlighten me on what actually happened, haha)

    Why did your eloquent, kindhearted Shunji have to turn into such a deranged badass, he was supposed to be the sidekick. I didn’t see Shunji’s switch to the dark side coming at all! But I guessed that Kang To’s brother was Gaksital from the beginning, which prepared me for Kang To’s transformation.

    A few ramblings…

    Love:

    – Bodyguard Katsuyama ignoring orders and protecting my fragile Ueno Rie from the blade of Kinpei. Katsuyama’s solemn facial expressions were a source of amusement throughout, his silent sighs, the unrequited love….I could relate, haha. Ueno Rie walks away as Chae Hong Joo and I pray she’ll be a good girl from now on.
    – The moment Mok Dan unmasks Gaksital
    – The shock when I realized mild-mannered Shunji was going to be Gaksital’s frenemy after witnessing his irritating bro die, and the shock when Shunji arrives as Kang To kills his father…a test of friendship too far? Nope Shunji, it gets worse, there’s a wedding
    – Every cliffhanger
    – The “holy” music.
    – Every time Mok Dan sees her father *sniff*
    – Angel Club.
    – Sa Ri’s loyal comrade who bites off her tongue when interrogated in the room of horrors *sobs*
    – The fight choreography. Favourites: Gaksital vs. Kinpei in ep 25 and the Gaksital vs. Katsuyama water fight in ep 17.
    – The camaraderie
    – When Shunji let go and gave up on his thirst for revenge…and, unexpectedly, I cried for him…
    – Kang To’s lovable brother (the scene where he smears poop everywhere in an attempt to appear insane, not so lovable)
    – The first time Kang To shouts Gaaaaaaaaaksiitaaaaaaaaaaaal. Joo Won has the funniest rage face.
    – The we’re all Gaksital ending.

    and

    Horror:

    – That wedding. I’d always dreamed of an outdoor wedding…

    • Oppa, im so proud of you.. you made gaksital feel like pringles.. you popped it and you didn’t stop.. *giggles

        • Tom
        • Posted June 19, 2013 at 11:28 p06
        • Permalink

        You’re my pringles. Never forget that

        I’m trying to say that I’m addicted to your drama recommendations and your writing. Without you I wouldn’t be popping.

  2. Reblogged this on Hazel Bella.


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