Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 1 to 5
Well, here we are back in sageuk territory with Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) as I start another binge on Korean drama. This time we’re in the 18th century Joseon with the real-life story of Baek Dong Soo (1743–1816) who’s shown as the protector of Crown Prince Sado (1735–1762) and his son Yi San (1752-1800). The history is slightly complicated. After Prince Hyojang died in 1728, Sado was born the second son of King Yeongjo. The reason for his failure to become king is unclear and somewhat controversial. At the time, he was considered erratic to the point of mental illness and was killed by his father, leaving the way open to his son Yi San to become King Jeongjo in 1776. However, he has been reappraised and is now thought to have been the victim of a conspiracy by his political opponents from the Noron faction of the Western (Seo-in) faction. As a result of this historical revisionism, he and his wife, Lady Hyegyeong, were designated Emperor Yangjo and Empress Heonyeong in 1899. During King Jeongjo’s reign, there was a positive attempt made to avoid any hint of favouritism between the different factions but, despite this, the Noron faction was able to maintain pre-eminence without obviously resorting to violence. But conflict reappeared when King Yeongjo murdered his son.
Much of the debate between the different factions concerned the succession, with each group looking for political advantage from the candidate for the throne they supported. When the murder occurred, the ruling Noron faction split into the Byeokpa and Sipa, forming groups that cut across the earlier factions. This sageuk version bends the history by having the Crown Prince killed by assassins paid by the Noron group, but the body is left in a way suggesting the son died while undergoing punishment ordered by the king. This matches up to history in result. We then have the interregnum as the old king continues and the heir apparent has to survive further Noron attempts to displace him. So this series spans several decades and deals with a number of court conspiracies which are variously frustrated by key players from the martial arts scene. We’re to focus on Baek Dong Soo who’s one of the men who wrote the definitive Korean Martial Arts for Dummies manual. His life was fictionalised in a comic written by Lee Jae-hoon and this forms the basis of the television version.
So to set us off, we have another of these extended back histories with Crown Prince Sado (Oh Man-Seok) upsetting the Noron group. To save his life, there’s a complicated deal to sacrifice Baek Sa King (Uhm Hyo Sup) and his family. Kim Kwang-Taek (Jeon Kwang-Leol), Hook Sa-Mo (Park Jun Gyu) and Jang Dae-Po (Park Won-Sang) combine their strength and save the heavily pregnant widow. To escape detection, she delays the birth. As a result, Baek Dong Soo is born deformed and his mother dies. To save the child’s life, Kim Kwang-Taek sacrifices his left arm and sets off to take the child to safety but, when attacked by In (Park Cheol-Min) and assassins from Hiksa Chorong, he’s separated from the child. Hwang Jin-Gi (Sung Ji-Ru) is passing, hears the child and takes it to safety with Hook Sa-Mo. To help the child grow up more strongly, the decision is taken to splint his arms and legs in the hope this will straighten them. Kim Kwang-Taek searches in vain for the lost baby and grows depressed, eventually entering a monastery. Over time, he grows interested in the monk’s style of self-defence using a staff. He begins to train, relearning how to fight one-handed. Another of Crown Prince Sado’s supporters, Yeo Cho-Sang (Lee Kye-In), becomes father to Yeo Woon but, from the date of birth and alignment of the stars, he’s convinced the boy will be a killer.
We now have one of these time jumps as twelve years pass. The leader of the assassin group Hoksa Chorong, Chun (Choi Min-Su) recruits and trains Yeo Woon (Park Geon-Tae). When he’s fully competent, Chun sends him as an undercover agent in what’s to become the Crown Prince’s private defence force. Yeo Woon quickly meets up with the young Baek Dong-Soo (Yeo Jin-Ku) and Hwang Jin-Joo (Lee Hye-In). The two boys become immediate competitors but, in these opening stages, Baek has no skills and is always beaten. They also meet Yoo Ji-Sun (Nam Ji-Hyun), daughter of a family holding a vital military document for the Crown Prince. The two boys then go off to the warrior’s training camp run by Jang Dae-Po and Baek finds himself confused by the lack of differentiation in training between a warrior and an assassin.
The problem with watching all this is that there’s no incentive to get interested in any of these characters because, although all the supporting actors will age gracefully (or not as the make-up artist dictates), we’re going to get an entirely new cast of young heroes and villains. As the bridge between the two age groups, we have an attack on the training camp where Chun kills Jang Dae-Po and wounds the young Baek Dong Soo, but fails to go on to kill the Crown Price. The assassin In attacks the Yoo family, killing everyone except Yoo Ji-Sun who survives with the vital map tattooed on her back. Now fast forward to three young heroes sent off on their first mission as warriors and caught up in an ambush. Now fully grown Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook) and Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) await their destiny meeting the two women, Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi) and Yoo Ji-Sun (Shin Hyun-Bin) who will feature large in this serial version of history.
For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 6 to 10
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 11 to 15
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 16 to 20
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 21 to 25
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 26 to end