Home > TV and anime > Tree With Deep Roots or Deep Rooted Tree or Bboori Gipeun Namoo (2011) — the first four episodes

Tree With Deep Roots or Deep Rooted Tree or Bboori Gipeun Namoo (2011) — the first four episodes

I suppose the reason why I find the opening four episodes of Tree With Deep Roots or Deep Rooted Tree or Bboori Gipeun Namoo so appealing is that even though I suspect the series will turn into a love story between the two children featured here, there’s enough realism on display to give me hope the series will stick to the basics of a good story, based on some real events, and “rooted” in something approximating the life and times supposedly portrayed. Series like Sungkyunkwan Scandal paint too rosy a picture of the past and promote the idea it would not have been too bad to live back them. The reality as shown in this series is that life as a slave had its moments of song and simple enjoyment but, for the most part, it was brutish and short. We get to see the machinations of the Great King in whittling down potential rivals translated into a device to frame the Young King’s father-in-law as a traitor. The consequence is that everyone directly and indirectly associated with the traitor must be executed. This includes all the slaves even though, by virtue of their position in society, they would have no practical ability to form a traitorous cabal to threaten the King.

The Young King Sekong (Song Joong Ki) deciding whether to grow up

So how does this set-up work? As in all good Korean drama series, there have to be two children who “love” each other. They are separated in dramatic circumstances. They each believe the other is dead and so grow up bitter and depressed until that happy moment when they are reunited and can resume their “love” as adults. However, this series goes above and beyond the call of duty. It has invested considerable effort in ensuring the circumstances of their separation are as traumatic as possible. Indeed, it’s some years since something with this emotional punch was brought to the screen in any language on any television channel. The first three episodes of this series should be required viewing for any aspiring screenwriter who hopes to produce the very best in drama. We start with our “hero” as an adult. He now calls himself Kang Chae Yoon (Jang Hyuk). He has managed to be promoted through the ranks of the army and arrives in the palace as a royal guard on merit. Unfortunately, he plans to carry out his deep-rooted plan to kill the King. In fact, this desire for revenge is based on a complete misunderstanding of what happened when he was a child. The point of the first four episodes is therefore to show him beginning to plan how he will carry out the killing and then we go through the three-episode flashback to see what actually happened.

Chae Sang-Woo outsanding as the young Ddol-Bok

In a village, the young version of our hero then called Ddol-Bok (Chae Sang Woo) defends his father, Seok-Sam (Jung Suk Yong) who is now intellectually disabled following a head injury. He’s very friendly with So-Yi (Kim Hyun-Soo) despite the fact her father bullies his father. Unknown to them, the formidable Great King Taejong (Baek Yun-Shik) targets Sim-On (Han In-Su), who owns all the villagers as his slaves. When the troops come to arrest everyone, Ddol-Bok rescues his father and So-Yi, but they are caught up in the plot and, in a moment of lucidity, his father is persuaded to take a message to Sim-On. This leads to the disabled father receiving what will prove a fatal wound. He dies in prison in his son’s arms. It’s a singularly powerful and moving performance from all involved and I sincerely congratulate director Jang Tae Yoo and screenwriter Kim Young Hyun (who also worked on The Great Queen Seon Duk and Dae Jang Geum) for taking the trouble to get this right. Frankly this is a trauma that would have left everyone present with deep scars.

Baek Yun-Shik not exactly fishing for compliments

We then go through the process of separating the children during a jail break where the young King Sekong (Song Joong Ki) stands up to King Taejong for the first time and saves Ddol-Bok, while Queen Sohum (Jang Ji-Eun) saves So-Yi. The children suffer very different fates as Ddol-Bok is dumped unconscious in Banchon by Moo Hyool (Jo Jin Woong). He has no idea the young King saved him but knows the “King” was responsible for the death of everyone in the village. He has the wrong king, of course, but it’s mistakes like this that make these dramas so exciting. So-Yi is protected as a court lady and, despite becoming a mute through the shock of that night, she ends up advising the king.

Kim Hyun-Soo doing well in the thankless role of the young girl

In the final two-thirds of the fourth episode we come up to date with Han Suk Kyu now playing the adult King Sejong. He’s finally outlived his father and has assumed the task of governing through a consensus-building version of Confucianism. Since he has take an oath that no-one will die because of him while he sits on the throne, this makes life very trying for everyone. The nobles in particular see their power eroded by the scholars and people rising through the ranks on ability. They are seething with resentment. The arrival of our hero Kang Chae Yoon in this powder keg is the result of his investigation into the murder of a scholar in his region. As he arrives, there’s a second murder and, appropriately, he’s set the task of finding the killer. He agrees to this because success will get him close to the king and give him the chance for the revenge he so fervently desires.

Frankly this is one of the best openings in a Korean drama for years and I’m not surprised to see it picked up a slew of awards. So far, there’s a wonderful script and terrific performances from everyone. It’s particularly impressive to see the relationship shift between the Great King, a role played with suppressed malevolence by Baek Yun-Shik, and the initially timorous Young King played by Song Joong Ki. Once the inexperienced boy is able to translate the symbolism of the mathematical game he plays into a political strategy, he begins to move with increasing confidence. The scene where he abjectly confronts his father during a military practice session is particularly impressive. However, the real performance to watch is from Chae Sang Woo. This is a genuinely mature performance from a young man. He manages to go through the trauma of watching his father die, fights in Banchon, fights in the forest and, later in the army. Yet with So-Yi he’s quiet and innocently bashful. Such passion is rare. Overall, I’m quietly optimistic Tree With Deep Roots or Deep Rooted Tree or Bboori Gipeun Namoo will prove to be the best sageuk I watch this year.

For other reviews of this series, see:
Tree With Deep Roots or Deep Rooted Tree or Bboori Gipeun Namoo (2011) — episodes five to eight
Tree With Deep Roots or Deep Rooted Tree or Bboori Gipeun Namoo (2011) — episodes nine to twelve
Tree With Deep Roots or Deep Rooted Tree or Bboori Gipeun Namoo (2011) — episodes thirteen to sixteen
Tree With Deep Roots or Deep Rooted Tree or Bboori Gipeun Namoo (2011) — episodes seventeen to twenty
Tree With Deep Roots or Deep Rooted Tree or Bboori Gipeun Namoo (2011) — episodes twenty-one to end

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