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Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr Jin

Thankfully there’s not long to go with Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012), but that doesn’t stop our intrepid team of scriptwriters from going down with melodrama of Titanic proportions on display. Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) is spending more of his time clutching his head and passing out. Sadly this does not also induce unconsciousness in us and the rest of the cast carry the show until he revives. Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and the Dowager Queen (Jeong Hye-Seon) have installed King Gojong (Lee Hyung-Suk) on the throne, but are now disputing the appointment of high-ranking officials based on merit or clan allegiance. To break up this alliance, the increasingly unsympathetic Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) is working as a double, if not triple, agent for his father Kim Byung-Hee (Kim Eung-Soo). This means deceiving Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) based on their supposed continuing friendship. Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) is training as a surgeon and goes to assist Dr Jin deliver a breech baby by Caesarian section. This doesn’t leave many medical operations to attempt. Remember Dr Jin has already drained a blister on a big toe — after that, what mountain is left to climb? So now we come into the final piece of history that will lead to war. We arbitrarily find ourselves in 1866 with the suppression of Catholicism firmly on the agenda. Dr Jin saves the life of Father Félix-Claire Ridel. Unfortunately Kim Byung-Hee produces a situation in which it’s impossible for Lee Ha-Weung to ignore the anti-Catholic law so we now wait for the retaliatory French raid on Ganghwa Island. The headaches are growing more severe but I still can’t manage to lose consciousness. No wait! A young boy is injured. He could die. Why is Dr Jin flickering in and out of existence. It’s his great, great grandfather! Come on Hong Young-Rae, prove you’re a worthy successor to Dr Jin and save that boy! Oh, wonderful. Now we have to watch another three episodes.

Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) refusing to disappear

Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) refusing to disappear

Well the mutual blackmail attempts continue as the French decide whether to send gunships. Unable to stand any more pain, Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) throws herself in front of Dr Jin and takes a sword thrust meant for him. For the first time in this series, his attempt at open-heart surgery fails to save a life. Before she dies, she tell Dr Jin that Min Ah, the modern lover, is already dead. I have my tenses wrong there. . . .will have been dead by the time he gets back (if he does, that is). Quite how she knows this is a bit baffling but, armed with this information, he goes to throw himself off a cliff. Sadly Hong Young-Rae stops him. So now the useless Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su) deceives himself into believing he has a brain and betrays his father. Daddy Kim finally sees he can do no more and commits suicide. This leaves the loyal bastard alone, sobbing his heart out, thinking there’s nothing left to live for — after twenty hours of watching, I understand the feeling. We then cut to the battlefield with the French using canon to win the day while Hong Young-Rae tries to patch up the wounded. The tediously dramatic climax in Joseon limps across the screen. Kim Kyung-Tak makes a half-hearted attempt to assassinate Lee Ha-Weung. When that fails, he agrees to lead Dr Jin through French lines to rescue Hong Young-Rae who, naturally refuses to leave. She’s a doctor and she’s not going to abandon her patients. At the end of a lot of fighting, Kim Kyung-Tak is dead and Hong Young-Rae is seriously wounded. After performing emergency surgery to remove shrapnel, Dr Jin also receives a fatal wound, falls off the wall surrounding the fort they are defending, and wakes up in a modern hospital bed. He has a single strip of bandage around his forehead. This is supposed to signal he’s had brain surgery to remove a foetus-like growth from his skull. How they managed to do the surgery without shaving his head and having him on full life-support is puzzling. Anyway, he leaps out of his bed, runs through the hospital and finds Yoo Mi-Na who flatlines. There’s drama as Dr Jin shouts for “epi” and then braces with the paddles to fight for her life. Fortunately, in Joseon, Hong Young-Rae opens her eyes as the anaesthetic wear off. This triggers a miraculous recovery in our time and cheers from the other hospital staff. Dr Jin has triumphed again.

Dr Jin with bandage and Yoo Mi-Na (Park Min-Young)

Dr Jin with bandage and Yoo Mi-Na (Park Min-Young)

It’s always difficult to draw comparisons. In spirit, the series could be rerunning the same ideas as in Lest Darkness Fall by L Sprague de Camp where a graduate student of history travels back to Rome just before the start of the Dark Ages. The question is whether to intervene to preserve Rome. Or this could be a version of the set-up in To Your Scattered Bodies Go in the Riverworld series by Philip José Farmer where this return to a reconstructed past is a kind of moral experiment run by unspecified intelligences to see whether humanity is ethical or fit to be the rulers of the universe as in Transit by Edmund Cooper (cf Seahorse in the Sky where passengers in an aeroplane wake up in coffins).

Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han)  and Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong)

Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) and Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong)

Is it all just a dream? Perhaps most infamously, Dallas ran an entire season which turned out to be Pam dreaming. This could be going on either in Yoo Mi-Na’s head after her surgery or in Dr Jin’s head after his surgery. Except in the first episode, in flashback, and at the end we get to see Choon Hong, and the doctor who wakes Dr Jin says he was found some distance away from the hospital and hands him the ring found in his “strange clothes”. We’re therefore supposed to think he’s actually travelled. Closer to this series, perhaps we should remember X-Files: Series 6, Episode 3. Triangle where Mulder travels to 1939 and then wakes up in hospital with the bruise on his cheek. Similarly, MacGyver: Season 5, Episode 12. Serenity where he travels to the Wild West and wakes up with the knife.

In this I note the actual mechanism for transmission in either direction seems to be death. In the first episode, Dr Jin falls off the roof of the hospital. To return, he has to be stabbed in the gut and fall off a high wall. This might characterise the experience as Limbo as in the TV series Lost. Or it could be a loop as in By His Bootstraps by Robert Heinlein where Bob Wilson iterates through the time gate until he emerges a free man or something. In the first episode of this series, we meet a man covered in bandages. The tumour is removed from his head and he’s later on the roof of the hospital. Perhaps this is Dr Jin ending one of his loops and, when the current Dr Jin falls off the roof, this is the next iteration. That would explain why no-one at the end recalls the man in bandages. More to the point, it explains why Dr Jin gives instructions to the young version of Choon-Hong. Despite his protestations of love and fidelity to Yoo Mi-Na, he expects to go round the loop at least once more.

Put all this together and Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin turns out to be easily the worst piece of Korean drama I’ve seen so far. It not only fails as science fiction, it’s also woeful, by-the-numbers sageuk with only one sequence even remotely reaching a standard of acceptability. This is definitely not recommended.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16

Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16

December 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr Jin

Well, as we accelerate into the second half of Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012), everyone is plotting now. Royal Doctor, Yoo Hong-Pil (Kim Il-Woo) continues the plan with Kim Byung-Hee (Kim Eung-Soo) to kill King Cheoljong (Kim Byeong-Se) and blame Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon). But it all requires careful timing. The clan need to move their nominee into position as heir before the latest puppet dies. Working the other side of the fence, Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) plots with the Dowager Queen (Jeong Hye-Seon) to line up the boy who will become King Gojong (Lee Hyung-Suk). This is proving difficult but he does literally hit the jackpot and manages to get Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su) exiled for trading with Westerners. That gold finally came in useful.

Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and Dr Jin (Song Seung-Heon)

Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and Dr Jin (Song Seung-Heon)

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) and Dr Jin finally manage to convince Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) that it’s her destiny to marry Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) so she’s really miserable while the young lover manages the first smile we’ve seen out of him for hours of screen time. Not surprisingly, Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) walks back into the picture with vague explanations of how he managed to survive and who helped. He’s currently hiding out with Choon Hong. Which just leaves us with all the doctoring. To fire up the excitement, the King decides he has acute appendicitis and rolls around in agony. This would normally be a quick and easy operation, but Dr Jin discovers his patient is anaemic. So he throws together a blueprint for a centrifuge and before you can say, “Blood typing for Dummies”, he’s discovered that Lee Ha-Weung is the right type to act as live donor. There’s just one problem. Lee Ha-Weung wants the King to die so his son can become King. Dr Jin gets all disappointed that this great man should want him to kill the King. This produces the irony that Kim Byung-Hee and Dr Jin insist the surgery should go ahead. Saving the King comes first. They can argue about the succession later. Anyway, as the script requires, it all works out well because, when the King wakes up and, wait for it, feels as if he’s cured, he’s so overjoyed he says the young boy can be adopted by the Dowager Queen which puts him on track to succeed. Kim Byung-Hee barely flickers. He thinks he’s got lots of time to persuade the King to actually nominate someone else as the heir.

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) and Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young)

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) and Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young)

This leave us with two points of interest. Choon-Hong proves she’s a genuine time traveller by showing Dr Jin the Rubik’s cube he gave her in the hospital as she recovered from brain surgery. If she can go back and forth, so can he. Hong Young-Rae is now dreaming of Yoo Mi-Na, her future self, and to prove the entire thing is all going to require the maximum melodrama to work out, she’s also diagnosed with breast cancer. I have visions of script meetings where they discussed whether Dr Jin could search the countryside for meteors and hope to find enough radioactive material to give radiotherapy. This idea was, of course, dismissed. The risk of him finding Kryptonite was too great. Then comes the operation. Should he save the girl? He cuts. The pain in his head explodes. Lights flash before his eyes. He’s changing the future (again) but this time with the Universe telling him he’s doing the wrong thing. My head hurts too. The future is fighting back. “Don’t save the woman!” it shouts. So the naturally stubborn Dr Jin oversees the operation and her life is saved. He’s the irresistible force and the Universe had better look out. So to prove everything is now up for grabs, Kim Byung-Hee orders the worthless Kim Kyung-Tak to kill Lee Ha-Weung. He shoots. The man falls. Has the future really been changed?

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) fated to be one of life's losers

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) fated to be one of life’s losers

Frankly I can’t say I care. Dr Jin has been blundering around in the past saving everyone and changing history beyond all recognition since the series began, even introducing blood transfusion and making his own stethoscope out of bamboo. He saved hundreds in a cholera outbreak. Are we to assume this had no effect on the future because most of the people saved were slaves and peasants? It’s absurd this script makes everything turn on saving the yangban Kim Byung-Hee. In a science fiction plot, Dr Jin has completely wrecked the past and no matter what he might try to correct things, he’s doomed to fail. Except this is a historical fantasy with chronic romantic pretensions so one of the two versions of this woman, Hong Young-Rae or Yoo Mi-Na, will presumably get her man (or perhaps they both will). I’ve given up caring. However, just to bring us up to date (ha!), the latest explanation of this time travel ability depends on a particular mutation in the brain — step aside Time Lord in your TARDIS, this is a job for X-Woman Kate Pryde, i.e. the adult Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat. This explains both Choon-Hong’s physical travel and the visions of the future or past. However, she now informs us the downside of this mutation is that it becomes the site of a tumour if what the mutant does pushes either end of the transfer out of balance. So the foetus-like growth Dr Jin removed in the first episode was the organ permitting travel but grown life-threatening. Choon Hong tells Dr Jin he’s only got days left before he too dies. His headaches grow more frequent and disabling. Even so, he saves Lee Ha-Weung who, when the King dies without changing the implicit nomination of the boy destined become King Gojong, blackmails Kim Byung-Hee into permitting his son to be named heir. Progress of a kind is maintained as Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) lurches towards the end for which will bring us all a merciful release from these terrible flashing lights and headache-inducing pictures on the screen.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12

December 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr Jin

Well, as Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) progresses, my hopes of crossing dimensions have been put on hold as our good Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) has confessed travelling back in time to Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young). And she believes him — he just looks so convincing with that sexy ponytail and those handsome eyes. Anyway, she’s now enthused with the idea of learning future medicine and so breaks off the engagement with Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) — poor boy, he looks so lost. Her mother (Kim Hye-Ok) is very distressed at the failure of this arranged marriage and throws her daughter out of the house. With nowhere else to go, she moves into the clinic. To keep the pot boiling, the jealous Royal Doctor, Yoo Hong-Pil (Kim Il-Woo) conspires with Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su) to frame Dr Jin for killing patients. All the clinic doctors get a beating and the clinic is closed. Note the scale of values on display here. The doctors are supposed to have killed several peasants so they each get ten strokes. I suppose it’s painful but, as punishments go, it hardly matches the seriousness of homicide. To move round Left Side Minister Kim Byung-Hee (Kim Eung-Soo), Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) gets in to see the Queen Dowager (Jeong Hye-Seon) and persuades her to allow Dr Jin to give her a wellbeing examination. While he’s inside the Palace, one of the Dowager Queen’s favourite entertainers falls ill. Yoo Hong-Pil, the Royal Doctor, says it’s just indigestion. The good doctor diagnoses a perforated ulcer. To demonstrate the point, he cuts open the man’s stomach with the Dowager Queen looking on, points out the hole, and just in case she wants to try it herself later on, shows her how to sew the stomach wall back together. It’s all terribly educational and, suitably impressed, she orders the clinic reopened. Meanwhile Lee Ha-Weung has moved a gambling operation into the upmarket brothel and is coining money. He plans to throw a banquet for the Dowager Queen and persuade her to back his son for the position of next King.

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) and  and Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su)

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) and and Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su)

We now come to a sequence showing what Korean drama can do if it tries hard enough. Mrs Hong stops eating properly after throwing her disobedient daughter out and gets Beriberi. Being stubborn she refuses to eat “ordinary” food with the right vitamins inside, so Dr Jin introduces donuts filled with the right stuff. This tempts her into eating and she begins to recover. When the Dowager Queen hears of this, she wants to eat donuts so they are ordered for the banquet. It all boils up nicely. Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) decides to assassinate Left Minister Kim Byung-Hee who, in turn, plans to kill the Dowager Queen and blame everyone troublesome. Come the day, Kim Kyung-Tak saves his father and, in a quiet back street, unmasks Hong Young-Whee. The Dowager Queen is fed poison and, under Dr Jin’s direction, Yoo Hong-Pil stomach pumps the poison out and saves her life, i.e. the murder plot is failing. But Dr Jin, Hong Young-Rae and Lee Ha-Weung are arrested anyway and tortured. With the King fed edited news, he orders their execution and it’s left to the conflicted Kim Kyung-Tak to save the day. As a reward, Kim Byung-Hee orders his illegitimate son to commit suicide, having carefully removed the bullet from the gun, and sends off Lee Ha-Weung into exile. Up to this point, this sequence is all relatively small-scale in terms of emotion and has a clever mystery element. Although we could have done with a less dramatic piece of surgery and the execution scene is interminable, this has been very successful. And finally, at the halfway mark, we get hints of how Dr Jin came to move through time (if that’s what he did). It all seems to be connected with Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon). How or why she has done this is unclear, but she tells him he has messed everything up because he saved the life of Kim Dae-Gyun. At least this is a step in the right direction and, if we’re going for the simplistic solution, Dr Jin can get the future back on track if only he can get rid of the Left Minister and fix the life of Hong Young-Rae which has been disrupted by his arrival. I could have done with a half-hour monologue from our hostess explaining exactly what’s going on, but that would be too much to expect at the halfway stage. Hopefully, we’ll get more infodumps nearer the end.

Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han)

Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han)

We now shift to Jinju in Gyeongsang province and the time is 1862, i.e. we arrive for the uprising. All the key players are present and tie themselves in rather silly knots as we slip into corny sageuk melodrama. Kim Kyung-Tak and the army arrive to put down the rebellion which is now led by Hong Young-Whee — promotion comes fast in the distant past. Lee Ha-Weung is passing through on his way into exile and Dr Jin is running after him to stop a premature execution ordered by Kim Byung-Hee. Hong Young-Rae is trying to find her brother. On this road trip, Dr Jin kills an insect nesting in a brigand’s ear and stitches up a corrupt magistrate who later shoots Hong Young-Whee. Dr Jin is now burdened with guilt but, when he returns to the capital, he’s promoted into the Palace to look after the King. Naturally, Kim Byung-Hee and Yoo Hong-Pil plan to kill the King and blame Dr Jin. Hong Young-Rae is left unconscious and in shock while an anxious Kim Kyung-Tak mops her fevered brow with a wet rag — it’s all he can manage in a tent in the middle of a battlefield after killing all the rebellious peasants. Hong Young-Whee fell off a cliff and is missing — we’re supposed to think he’s dead.

Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) caught in the middle

Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) caught in the middle

So we had a few good moments in this quartet of episodes before it relapsed into court intrigues and conspiracies. I’m warming to Kim Eung-Soo as the villainous Kim Byung-Hee. He’s a steady captain of the corrupt clan ship, doing just what he needs to maintain control. Kim Jae-Joong is still walking around like a pale ghost, making Kim Kyung-Tak a bit wearing to watch, but he’s beginning to show signs of a brain capable of independent thought even if he was prepared to kill himself on his father’s orders — also following this line, Lee Beom-Soo as Prince Lee Ha-Weung was submissive to the King’s order to drink poison. What a terrible waste of talent if all the best men obey the command to die if that’s what their Lords order. So Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) is verging on the unwatchable, but I’m still vaguely interested to see what explanation the scriptwriters offer for this time travel.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr Jin

Well now we have these reviews for Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) under way, I need to catch up a little with some of the history on display in this Korean drama. Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon), our time traveller, has ended up in the Joseon of 1860 and has met Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) before he becomes the Regent for his son, King Gojong (Lee Hyung-Suk). We have King Cheoljong (Kim Byeong-Se) on the throne as this series starts. The initial intention of placing these real people in the path of our neurosurgeon is supposed to give him his first experience of keeping history on track (ha! as if that’s what’s happening in this series). So when the young king-in-waiting catches cholera, our hero is in there “inventing” IV technology to prevent dehydration. That way he keeps the future king alive for his appointment with destiny. Everything else is, of course, absurd. Having cured everyone in this peasant class suburb, our good doctor eventually succumbs to cholera (not surprising since he would have had no natural immunity to it). Thanks to Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) inserting a drip, he’s soon up and about and able to run around rescuing the sick when Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) and the troops turn up to burn the village. Disease control in those days was rather basic. If you can’t cure the disease, destroy all places of possible infection. Notice that a blacksmith has now made needles for insertion into veins for the IV drips, there are glass jars slung from bamboo poles with clamps to regulate the flow. And when Dr Jin fell down, Hong Young-Rae knew exactly where his femoral artery was to save his life. This medical expertise is spreading with the speed of a contagious disease.

Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) wise beyond his years

Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) wise beyond his years

Anyway, now Dr Jin’s talents have been recognised, he’s established himself as a teacher (can’t imagine why he does not think this is changing the future). He’s teaching basic anatomy and the theories of infection control with antiseptics made by boiling down rice wine to liberate the alcohol. Our good doctor then finds himself called into action by Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon). Yeon-Sim (No Eul), one of the girls, has developed syphilis. So our expert is all fired up to invent Penicillin using mould scraped off whatever happens to be rotting. But then he stops himself. If he does this, he says to himself, he will change history. This is a revelation. Change history. No he can’t possibly do that! I suppose we just have to close our eyes and accept this farrago of rubbish as the best a scriptwriting team inexperienced in science fiction can produce. He started off saving individuals who would have died. Then he saved the capital from a cholera epidemic — imagine how many people that saved who should have died. And now he stops because he wants to let a prostitute die! This series has some twisted morality on display.

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong)  as a desperately jealous young man

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) as a desperately jealous young man

The relationship between the illegitimate Kim Kyung-Tak and the legitimate Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su) is boiling up nicely. The young one has been victimized but still has a sense of morality about him. The aggressive legitimate son is a crook who was profiteering during the cholera outbreak and is dealing with the Westerners on the quiet which is a federal crime. Anyway, as a result of his market manipulations, dim-but-legitimate son has managed to amass a cache of gold. Lee Ha-Weung and Joo Pal Yi (Lee Won-Jong) work out he has the gold hidden in his home. Since they also know Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) is the leader of a rebellious bandit group, they persuade him to steal the gold. Meanwhile Dr Jin’s conscience has been gnawing at his vitals, so he whips together an instant production facility and produces Penicillin while teaching the doctors all about the scientific method. This saves Yeon-Sim only for her to be arrested and tortured to reveal whom she told about meeting the Westerner. Rather than give up her love, she commits suicide leaving Lee Ha-Weung all fired up to change Korean society for the better. He starts by getting Dr Jin to operate to remove a giant tumour from neck of the current Dowager Queen’s favourite niece. Meanwhile Kim Kyung-Tak pushes up the date for his marriage to Hong Young-Rae. When she goes to Dr Jin’s clinic to quietly return his future clothing, she’s injured in a fire set by one of the doctors who has stolen the Penicillin to sell on at a vast profit. Now Dr Jin has to save the girl (again) which would be straightforward except Kim Dae-Gyun is encouraged to kill him and Lee Ha-Weung. Oh dear, the assassins are back in action wearing their black straw hats of office.

Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) it's tough to be the love interest in Korean drama

Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) it’s tough to be the love interest

As an irrelevant aside, suppose Dr Jin has not gone back in time but has moved sideways into another dimension which is at an earlier point in its development. If that was the case, the timeline would be irrelevant and he could make a new world without worrying about its future. I mention this because he keeps talking about coming from “another world” rather than from this world’s future. In fact, that version of the plot would solve all of the paradox issues at a stroke. I suppose Song Seung-Heon is not doing too badly as a fish out of water — Dr Jin does have trouble with the local culture even though he’s apparently grown a ponytail in incredibly fast time — and it has been mildly interesting to watch Lee Beom-Soo sober up as Lee Ha-Weung. There’s very bad continuity before, during and after the fire as the young King Gojong seems to have disappeared. That just leaves us with Kim Jae-Joong doing reasonably well as the conflicted and naturally jealous Kim Kyung-Tak. Everyone else is on auto-pilot as Joseon stock characters. Overall, Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin is rather tedious as historical fantasy. I had hoped there would be invention as science fiction but, so far, the only thing missing has been a plague of zombies for him to cure, i.e. the medical side of the plot is ludicrous and the Joseon sageuk side is by-the-numbers court conspiracies.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes

December 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr Jin

There’s a first for everything and this opening episode provides me with a complete novelty But before we get to that, a word about genre classification. This is supposedly a science fiction story, using time travel to relocate a skillful neurosurgeon from modern times to the Joseon period of 1860. We therefore have a man with all the skills to completely revolutionise medical treatment. This would potentially introduce major changes in the timeline with him saving hundreds of people who should have died. We’ll come to the explicit treatment of the paradox issue later. For now let’s just focus on the mechanism. This falls squarely into the fantasy area. Our surgeon opens up the skull of an emergency patient and, as he’s repairing the immediate injuries, decides to look at a tumour which shows up on the scan. This proves to be a highly immature foetus. As he removes it, there’s a flash of light and he’s aware of a desire to “return” somewhere. We see the foetus preserved in a glass jar, presumably using formalin or its equivalent, and we’re to assume it’s now manipulating the present. After a number of incidents, our hero finds himself falling off the roof of the hospital trying to catch the falling foetus only to land in the past. For the record, the foetus is photographed using creepy lighting to imply it’s sentient and working “magic”.

Dr Jin (Song Seung-Heon) and Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo)

Dr Jin (Song Seung-Heon) and Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo)

Based on the manga “Jin” by Motoka Murakami, Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) is a Korean drama remake of the Japanese television series which ran from 2009 to 2011. This sageuk features Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) with two women in his life. The first is Yoo Mi-Na in modern times with the same actress playing Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) in Joseon times. Unfortunately, the Joseon version is engaged to marry Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong). He’s the illegitimate son of Kim Byung-Hee (Kim Eung-Soo), the Minister of Justice, which is shown as a dreadful social position. Appropriately he’s in position to almost arrest our hero when he first appears in Joseon. Fortunately, our hero is rescued by Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) — a real historical figure so there can be a token consideration of the paradox issues. The other female of note is Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) who floats between all interested parties as a top hostess.

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) as the hostess with the mostest

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) as the hostess with the mostest

So here we go with the central problem with the script. If our time traveller changes anything in the past, there’s a cascade effect into the future. For an extreme example, “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury has a traveller who kills a butterfly while on a dinosaur hunt. When they return to the “present”, they find it different. While the most obvious paradoxes come when you kill your own parents, the implications of any change are potentially profound. If A died when he was twenty years old, there’s no problem if our traveller kills him at the right time. But if he saves A who then goes on to have ten children, there’s a ripple effect as all these new people live out lives they should not have had. So what does our good doctor do. Well, he’s no sooner walked into Hanyang (literally translated as the fortress on the Han river) than he comes across Joo Pal Yi (Lee Won-Jong) choking. Now any sensible time traveller looks on dispassionately and says he cannot intervene without upsetting history. Ha! As if. . . Our good doctor is immediately into action with the Heimlich Manoeuvre. When that doesn’t work, he’s pretending he’s still in the ER. “Intubate stat!” he shouts to no-one in particular grabbing a knife and cutting open Joo Pal Yi’s neck. Perhaps everyone is in shock at this murderous attack, because they all stand back and do nothing to stop him as he blows into the man’s neck to get the lungs working. Then he’s manoeuvring in the Heimlich style and the obstruction pops out. The patient is immediately leaping around assuring everyone he’s fine while the doctor staunches the blood with an old piece of cloth guaranteed to be full of bacteria. Minutes later, he’s bashing on the skull of Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) with a wooden wallet and a chisel. In my early years, people called this a lobotomy but, in these primitive times, it enables our visiting doctor to remove a blood clot with his fingers. If you missed it the first time, he’s off again minutes later. This time cracking open the head of Kim Byung-Hee. Remarkably, all these patients are up and frolicking the next day. They had fantastic powers of recuperation in Josean times. This is being observed by the sceptical Royal Doctor, Yoo Hong-Pil (Kim Il-Woo) — he’s one of these professional naysayers.

Hong Young-Rae  as the Joseon Hong Young-Rae

Park Min-Young as the Joseon Hong Young-Rae

Not content to show off his carpentry skills on people’s skulls, he then demonstrates the skills of a lifeguard to half the court, swimming out and bringing a drowning Choon-Hong to shore. As she’s about to die, he fondles her breasts and kisses her dead body. No-one objects to this necrophilia. Instinctively they know this will one day be known as cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Then before you can say “I’m really a brain surgeon from the future,” he’s stitching up a poor woman’s forehead which is leaking blood like it’s on special offer at the local donation centre. And then guess what. He walks back into Hanyang and finds he’s in the middle of a cholera outbreak. This guy is like a lightning conductor. He only has to walk into shot and someone drops down with a malady only he can diagnose and cure. So now he’s the only one who can stop the epidemic from killing thousands. The scriptwriters should have given him a real challenge like bubonic plague, not something this easy-peasy.

Indeed, you can just hear the scriptwriters fleshing out the script outline and asserting they needed value for money out of the idea of transporting a doctor back in time. Just think, they said gleefully, he can save an entire city from death by curing cholera. How many butterflies is that worth? But you are shaking your heads. The historical records show no major death toll from cholera in 1860 so the doctor must have been there. Except there’s absolutely nothing in the historical records of the day to show revolutionary medical treatments based on opening up the body to remove clots or tracheal obstructions. Since these events are being witnessed by the Royal Doctor, there would have been records. So since our good Doctor knew no time traveller had introduced advanced medical techniques in 1860, he must be changing the timeline from the moment he sets foot in the past. Having a token real person to worry about is a nonsense. Everyone is a real person for these purposes and the more people he saves, the worse it gets. For these reasons, we have to abandon Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin as anything approaching science fiction and see it as nothing more than wooly historical fantasy.

For reviews of other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 26 to end

December 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Well if anything can be dragged out until you are bored to the back teeth, the team behind Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) can do it. Let’s start with the redemption ploy. We’ve been watching the terminally incompetent In (Park Cheol-Min) crawl from one malevolent disaster to another, snarling in frustration and shedding body parts. Well, he has one more go at Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook), offering gold to a group of mercenaries recruited by Hong Dae-Joo (Lee Won-Jong) to chop off our hero’s head. He should know by now this man is invincible. You could send a squadron of M1 Abrams against him and he would snip the ends off their 120 mm smoothbore guns with his supersword and leave them helpless in conveniently adjacent quicksand. However, despite this latest provocation, our hero just smiles wearily and lets him go. Hong Dae-Joo is not nearly so forgiving. He has his men collect In and start the slow process of beating him to death. While taking a breather, our hero wanders into their camp and frees In. This finally convinces the worthless slob that there’s something to this hero lark and perhaps he’d better get on board before the end of the series. So in a moment of nobility of spirit, he surrenders his life to protect a group of poor people who are being wrongly accused of being terrorists. He manages a smile when everyone of note gathers around to say he’s dying a good death and can go to Heaven after all.

Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) and the Japanese sword ace

Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) and the Japanese sword ace wait for the end

At the betting hall being used as a showcase for recruiting competent mercenaries, Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi) is acting like the energiser bunny. Wearing a mask matching her hat, she’s beating all-comers and proving she’s a lethal weapon. Yes, it’s another of these terminally stupid cross-dressing sequences. She’s wearing a mask covering half her face and no-one’s supposed to notice she has breasts, hips and speaks like a woman. Only when she actually gets to meet Hong Dae-Joo does anyone notice she’s not quite what (s)he claims to be. Meanwhile our hero has to fight the Japanese ace while under the influence of drugs. I’m suddenly conscious I’m watching all this without the benefit of anything to dull the pain. Fortunately, Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) covertly saves our hero from being slaughtered. There are then some terminally silly scenes where Hwang Jin-Joo pops up with her bow and arrow. First she saves In (which is pretty magnanimous of her given the way he was beating and kicking her in earlier episodes). Then she kills a couple of musket-wielding men about to shoot our hero (yes, we have flintlock muskets in use at this time). Finally she and Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi) go off to prevent the baddies from launching the signal meteors from the local hilltop and fail miserably (a necessary idiotic trigger for the coup attempt to go ahead so we can see our hero fight and defeat an army on his own).

Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi) as the female warrior

Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi) as the female warrior

Curiously, Yoo Ji-Sun (Shin Hyun-Bin) has almost completely disappeared from sight. She’s trailing round doing vague detective work, trying to follow people to find where the gunpowder is being stored. It’s a major fall from grace. Originally it looked as if she was going to be a star player, but she turned into a wallflower. Meanwhile Yeo Woon, the man who has been doing everything for his love of this wilting flower, is playing a deep game, shuttling between Hong Dae-Joo and Queen Jungsoon (Keum Dan-Bi) working out the details of the coup. So when the “meteors” fall from the sky, battalions of soldiers and assassins converge on the Palace. Fortunately, Baek Dong-Soo climbs over a wall (note to designers of palaces that five-feet walls are not a good defence against infiltration) and becomes a one-man killing machine until he gets tired. At this point, Yeo Woon stands back-to-back with him and they kill all that are left standing. Except, at one key moment, Hwang Jin-Joo pops up from behind a wall (she’s definitely a lot more useful to have around than the wallflower) and rescues both of them with a few well-placed arrows — she kills the musketeers who would shoot our heroes dead from a distance. This is tediously repetitious fighting and the rebellion is ludicrously easy to defeat.

Yoo Ji-Sun (Shin Hyun-Bin) early warrior promise not fulfilled

Yoo Ji-Sun (Shin Hyun-Bin) early warrior promise not fulfilled

Now Hong Dae-Joo and his fellow conspirators are captured, loudly proclaim how virtuous they were in trying to protect the kingdom from the son of a traitor, and are executed. This just leaves a few loose ends to tidy up. At this point, there’s a remarkable shift in tone from feel-good Korean drama sageuk to realpolitik. The standard pattern is the heroes all get the romantic endings they deserve after all the baddies have been seen off. But this recognises the impossibility of Yeo Woon’s position. As the head of an assassin organisation, he’s never going to be free of suspicion and intrigue. Indeed, the harder he tries to dissolve the organisation, the more the rank and file resist. So, in the best spirit of melodramatically silly endings, he decides to commit suicide by Baek, i.e. following in his father’s footsteps, he runs at our hero, jumps in the air and deliberately impales himself on Baek’s sword. Our hero is naturally devastated and holds his friend in his arms as he dies. This leaves Yoo Ji-Sun with no choice but to step away from the wall and hold our hero’s hand, while the always-useful-in-a-fight Hwang Jin-Joo gets to marry the soppy scholar with the artistic bent. As a final thought, it’s completely incomprehensible why Yeo Woon should save the Queen from any fallout connected to the coup.

Chun (Choi Min-Su) an engagingly tragic figure

Chun (Choi Min-Su) an engagingly tragic figure

Summing up, there are a number of running jokes. First, if any minion is touched by a sword or pricked by an arrow, it’s instant death but no accumulation of wounds slows down our main players in the heat of battle and, even if they appear seriously damaged, they are up and about the next day as if nothing had happened. Second, our heroic Baek is terminally stupid, running into fights when he’s obviously outmatched but, with consistent accuracy, the arrows of Hwang Jin-Joo save him from certain death. Quite why he never looks at this woman and wants to keep her around as his bodyguard is beyond me. Finally, Yeo Woon has an unerring radar for people about to do something they shouldn’t. As if by magic, he materialises behind them with his short sword and instantly terrifies them into agreeing to do whatever it takes to avoid death. The man is an entire organisation of enforcers rolled into one slim body with hair covering part of his face making him look mysterious.

Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook) with a self-satisfied smirk

Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook) with a self-satisfied smirk

You are therefore warned to avoid Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo. At no point is Ji Chang-Wook likeable as the supposed hero Baek. Yoo Seung-Ho is marginally better as the conflicted assassin but he’s never really convincing. Most of the women are there for decoration (except for Yoon So-Yi who can beat any man apart from one of the headliners) and almost all the other men are caricatures. The only one of any interest is Choi Min-Su as Chun, the Sky Lord of the assassins who finds the young Yeo Woon and trains him as his successor. His relationship with the one-armed wonder Kim Kwang-Taek (Jeon Kwang-Leol) feels authentic even though Jeon Kwang-Leol’s passivity gets a little wearing — he really should put a hook on the end of his fishing line every time he wants to eat fish.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 1 to 5
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 21 to 25

December 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Frankly I’ve pretty much lost interest and really don’t care what happens to any of these people. To confirm the descent of this plot into what can only be described as a tedious holding pattern, In (Park Cheol-Min) reemerges and kidnaps Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi). Since he’s been essentially deskilled by the insertion of needles into his nerve points, the best he can do is tie her up and then beat her unconscious two or three times. His plan is to use her as bait to lure all his enemies into various traps. Yawn. Except it does get interesting because this cripple proves capable of rigging multiple sets of crossbows and associated traps outside and inside a barn. How does he climb and pull cables taut? This is the worst kind of plotting because he couldn’t possibly have the physical ability to do any of this. Anyway, it’s all good enough to stick three arrows into Hwang Jin-Gi (Sung Ji-Ru). However, Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) tips off Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook) so both victims are rescued, the barn is burned to the ground and In escapes incineration. That lucky rabbit’s foot is really working hard to keep this incompetent assassin alive.

Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) is halfway good

Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) is halfway good

Meanwhile, back at the palace, a very complicated plot is unveiled by Hong Dae-Joo (Lee Won-Jong) and the Japanese. They make it look as though the Heir Apparent is plotting to kill the King. In the midst of all this, the guards find a pretext to arrest Hook Sa-Mo (Park Jun Gyu) which deeply upsets everyone. But, staying calm under pressure is the name of this game so Kim Kwang-Taek (Jeon Kwang-Leol) and Baek Dong-Soo set off the find the “truth” which will exonerate the Heir Apparent and save Sa-Mo. In the midst of this, Kim Kwang-Taek is still planning to fight Chun (Choi Min-Su) to the death. Since they have both lost the one they love, it seems only fair one of them should go and join her in Heaven. This duel has become somewhat complicated because Kim Kwang-Taek has been diagnosed with stomach cancer (just taking the pulse, TCM-style, is better than MRI scans and modern methods). He’s going to drop down dead without anyone else’s help in short order.

Queen Jungsoon (Keum Dan-Bi) coming out into the open

Queen Jungsoon (Keum Dan-Bi) coming out into the open

Anyway, with Yeo Woon helping behind the scene, Baek Dong-Soo collects the evidence to show a conspiracy to frame the Heir Apparent. I should explain that Chun has revised history and confirmed Yeo Woon did not actually kill his father. He, Chun, had first stuck a knife in his father’s back and his father then committed suicide by pulling himself on to the knife held by his son. Everyone is now telling Yeo Woon to follow his heart, give up the life of an assassin and settle down with Yoo Ji-Sun (Shin Hyun-Bin). This inspires him to stop killing except in self-defence. He’s now actively helping the goodies whenever he can. We then have to sit through a tedious sequence of attacks on the Heir Apparent as he goes outside the Palace. We all know they will fail but I suppose it does fill in the time with some action. That’s more than can be said about Kim Kwang-Taek who’s planning suicide by assassin. He says goodbye to everyone and wanders off to let Chun kill him after a fish supper. No longer able to stand this interminable sequence of tear-jerking moments, Hong Dae-Joo sends archers to kill both of them so we can all move on to the endgame.

Chun (Choi Min-Su ) sorry to see him go

Chun (Choi Min-Su ) sorry to see him go

But, unable to resist melodrama, when the archers fire, Kim Kwang-Taek knocks the arrows away and saves Chun. In so doing, he exposes himself and Chun can’t prevent himself from striking the fatal blow. He dies in the arms of Baek Dong-Soo and Hwang Jin-Joo. We wallow in tears as the one-armed wonder is sent on his way. Chun, having had a chance for a quick rest, then fights Baek Dong-Soo and picks up a wound in his side. Yeo Woon then turns up and, after being encouraged to go his own way, inflicts another wound. By this time, Chun is a bit past caring but the scriptwriters have not done with him. In now appears with a host of archers, pushing Hwang Jin-Joo out in front of them to lure their prey out into the open. Chun then acts like a pin cushion, absorbing multiple shafts until In fires his latest crossbow and, finally, Chun bites the dust. This is fundamentally unfair. Hwang Jin-Gi was not the Daddy and he absorbed In’s arrows and was fit as a fiddle the next day, but the baddy who was not the Daddy has to die. Over the series, Chun as played by Choi Min-Su has consistently been the most interesting character and I was sad to see him go. We now move forward in time with Baek Dong-Soo travelling round the country collecting information on all the current fighting styles and weapons while Hwang Jin-Joo identifies herself as Baek Dong-Soo and fights all-comers for money. This proves very profitable, refines her fighting skills and leads to a career in a new venture set up by Hong Dae-Joo. It’s actually a covert way of recruiting fighters by offering prize money to anyone to come and fight in the arena. Eventually, the real Baek Dong-Soo is brought back. There’s big trouble brewing at the palace as Hong Dae-Joo moves everyone into place for a coup with Queen Jungsoon (Keum Dan-Bi) an increasingly visible player.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 1 to 5
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 26 to end

Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 16 to 20

December 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) now devolves into one of these tedious Hollywood-style martial arts films where the wise old one goes into retreat and teaches the young sprog how to be great. We therefore see snapshots of Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook) as he learns the basics, actually getting so good he can even beat Kim Kwang-Taek (Jeon Kwang-Leol) wearing a blindfold (I’ll let you decide who you think should be wearing the blindfold). Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi) is doing really well in the trading business with Yoo Ji-Sun (Shin Hyun-Bin). This success is beginning to threaten the Noron group’s interests. In (Park Cheol-Min) comes back to stage a takeover of the assassin group Hoksa Chorong. This suits Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) because, without the responsibility of leadership, he thinks he’ll be able to quit the day job and go professional on his hobby of beekeeping. And Hong Dae-Joo (Lee Won-Jong) with the support of the Noron group are intent on doing in the Heir Apparent. In a moment of soft fade, an uncountable amount of time passes. . . and the action resumes with Baek Dong-Soo and Kim Kwang-Taek coming down from the mountain retreat, while In and the assassins attack the bandit/trading camp run by Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi). For different reasons, both Chun (Choi Min-Su) and Ji (Yun Ji-Min) are visiting. The assassins let fly with arrows. Both Chun and Ji are hit. She now tells him he’s the father of Hwang Jin-Joo and he must save his daughter. Well, we’re a bit surprised by this because we all wanted Kim Kwang-Taek to be the Daddy. It’s really hard to tell who’s telling the truth here.

Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi), Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook) and Ji (Yun Ji-Min)

Hwang Jin-Joo (Ji Chang-Wook), Baek Dong-Soo (Yoo Seung-Ho) and Ji (Yun Ji-Min)

Anyway, the dutiful Chun carries off Hwang Jin-Joo who was bitten by a snake while no-one was paying attention. Then our hero strolls into the camp and by not being seen to threaten anyone directly, convinces them he can kill then all with a flick of his eyebrow if he’s not immediately obeyed. The assassins are terrified behind their black masks and all run off leaving our hero to carry Ji and Hwang Jin-Gi away for urgent medical treatment. As an aside, we should note that this sequence is typical of a running absurdity. If anyone wearing a black mask or a uniform is touched by a sword or arrow, there’s instant death. But here we have three characters with arrows sticking out of them like hedgehogs and sword cuts to every limb who will be up and running around in five minutes. Even the snake bite only produces a limp after a few hours rest. We then pivot into a new level of complexity because it seems Hong Dae-Joo has been rigging the ginseng trade for his private profit. If this is discovered, his whole clan will be wiped out. The Norons decide to use the question of tainted ginseng as a means of attacking the Heir Apparent. Hong Dae-Joo therefore orders Hoksa Chorong to kill all the merchant witnesses who might implicate him. Unfortunately this list includes Yoo Ji-Sun. Her rescue proves to be a staged event with first Yeo Woon intervening and then our hero coming into play. He sticks In with a needle that disables the nerves in his remaining arm so he’ll never be able to hold a sword again. Our man is therefore seen to be just and merciful. Having saved Hwang Jin-Joo from the snake bite, she now repays the kindness by saving Chun from the arrow wounds. Sooner or later, he’s going to tell her he thinks he’s the missing Daddy. Properly deputised as a detective, our hero now sets off the crack the case of the polluted ginseng. This should be exciting.

Chun (Choi Min-Su) and Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi)

Chun (Choi Min-Su) and Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi)

Except it isn’t. This is a routine court conspiracy subplot. Hong Dae-Joo has been using naval ships to bring in dodgy ginseng and substituting it for the good stuff. Unfortunately, some people are allergic to the cheap knock-off (including the Queen), so our crooked Minister is into extreme clean-up mode, setting off to kill everyone who might be able to implicate him. This upsets Yeo Woon who’s determined to protect Yoo Ji-Sun. In the end, both the boys are arrested and thrown into the same jail cell. Baek Dong-Soo does his, “You can give up the dark side and come into the light,” speech, they escape and, having collected evidence, Hong Dae-Joo looks as if he’s in trouble. Meanwhile, Chun and Ji combine to keep Hwang Jin-Joo safe from yet more attacking assassins (obviously, these masked ranks of assassins come cheaper by the dozen through mail order). Wait! Stop the presses! We have a fatal wound! And, as a result, there’s one of these immensely tedious extended death scenes for which Korean drama is famous as Chun, Kim Kwang-Taek and Hwang Jin-Joo get to wail over Ji as she dies. In the midst of all this tear-jerking, she seems to confirm Kim Kwang-Taek is the Daddy. Fortunately, Chun is past caring at this point. The woman he has loved all these years is dying. It’s irrelevant to him that he’s not the Daddy. In due course, Ji’s body goes on the funeral pyre and her ashes are released into the wind so she can be with the one she loves whenever the weather is favourable and as soon as she makes up her mind who to visit.

Kim Kwang-Taek (Jeon Kwang-Leol) and Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho)

Kim Kwang-Taek (Jeon Kwang-Leol) and Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho)

Back at the court, one of Hong Dae-Joo’s lieutenant’s is offered up as a scapegoat with the Japanese appearing before the King to give evidence clearing the Defence Minister of any personal involvement. The delegation is led by a Japanese expert with the sword. He gives a demonstration of his skills, beating the best of the also-rans without breaking sweat. He suggests an exchange of pointers with Kim Kwang-Taek and this is scheduled. In the meantime, Hong Dae-Joo arrests Yoo Ji-Sun to put pressure Yeo Woon. Assassin Boy is not a happy bunny when he gets the news and breaks her out of jail. With her now safely hidden away in Hoksa Chorong, he’s free to negotiate with Hong Dae-Joo, hoping he can find a way of getting rid of him. The difference between Yoo Seung-Ho and Yoo Seung-Ho is becoming a real gulf. Despite the endless training from Sword Saint, our hero remains all heart and very little brain, whereas the dark, mean and moody assassin is quietly intelligent and blessed with great foresight. At a gut level, you can understand why they might be friends but our hero is just such a naive pain, you know this is not going to end in a good way. The script continues the trend of marginalising Shin Hyun-Bin. Assassin Boy may love her and do anything to protect her, but she’s not at all responsive to either male lead. This leaves Yoon So-Yi to carry the female interest as the tomboyish girl who shoots a mean arrow and fights when called on. Overall, Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo is lurching forward without creating any real interest in how it will all turn out.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 1 to 5
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 21 to 25
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 26 to end

Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 11 to 15

December 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Well, as we continue with Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011), the fix is in and, with the assistance of Queen Jungsoon (Keum Dan-Bi), Crown Prince Sado (Oh Man-Seok) gets caught in web of deceit suggesting treasonous behaviour including wearing the wrong robes. It’s the seventh claw in the shoulder design that’s the clincher. Strange the Prince was so innocent in accepting the new clothes. You would think this kind of detail would jump out at someone in this status-ridden culture. Anyway, he’s now stripped of his rank and sent to jail while Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook) and Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) escort Yoo Ji-Sun (Shin Hyun-Bin) out of the place only to confront what’s left of In (Park Cheol-Min). This time the incompetent assassins manage to take Hook Sa-Mo (Park Jun Gyu) by surprise and seriously wound him. Fortunately, Kim Kwang-Taek (Jeon Kwang-Leol) arrives and chases the black-masked baddies away. He takes them to the secret hideout of Hwang Jin-Gi (Sung Ji-Ru) for medical treatment. This gives Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi) the chance to get into the jealousy game with Yoo Ji-Sun — they can’t both be destined to wed Baek Dong-Soo. Later Yeo Woon does his assassin thing and pretends kills three of the newly trained guards. It’s a tough life for him. Saving Baek Dong-Soo one minute and “killing” his fellow guards the next.

Baek Dong-Soo (Yoo Seung-Ho) fights Chun (Choi Min-Su)

Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook) fights Chun (Choi Min-Su)

So now he’s out in the open, Yeo Woon betrays everyone in a long-drawn out sequence of events leading to the death of the Crown Prince at the hands of Chun (Choi Min-Su). Yoo Ji-Sun is also wounded and carried off by Chun. This leaves our hero devastated, walking around drunk and generally showing a lack of interest in continuing life — a younger version of Chun, really, but lacking the ability to fight without falling down. I suppose this clears all the dead wood out of the way. We’ve got the two “heroes” seeing each other for what they are. The Crown Prince’s son is now a target as the Noron Queen plots with Hong Dae-Joo (Lee Won-Jong) to install her father as the next king (finally, I understand the point of the palace plotting), and there’s a mess of mushy romantic issues to resolve. Hwang Jin-Joo has worked out Ji (Yun Ji-Min) is her mother (which is remarkable because they both look the same age) but, so far, Kim Kwang-Taek’s contribution is not acknowledged. If he’s later confirmed as the Daddy, it will be interesting to see how he decides to pull the several rabbits out of the hat and reconcile everyone’s relationships.

Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) looking dangerous when wet

Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) looking dangerous when wet

To boost the sales of tissues, the script gets all weepy as first Hwang Jin-Joo is reconciled with her mother and then pulls the self-pitying Baek Dong-Soo out of his terminal decline. The boy still doesn’t have a lick of sense and can’t fight his way out of a paper bag, but he’s finally got wind of Yoo Ji-Sun’s survival (that damn map tattooed on her back still has the Chinese all fired up). So now he’s pitching himself into battle again without any thought of how he can escape. In the meantime, In is plotting to discredit Chun and leap into the leadership of Hoksa Chorong. This leads into a complicated stand-off on the jetty where the Qing ambassador is trying to leave the country with Yoo Ji-Sun. This tests everyone’s loyalty. There’s the now mandatory fight to a draw between Baek Dong-Soo and Yeo Woon, and then our hero breaks the standoff by burning the tattoo on Yoo Ji-Sun’s back with a flaming brand so no-one gets the benefit. This is remarkable because the flames destroy the tattoo without damaging her clothing in any meaningful way. In endless speeches, he now declaims anyone can change their destiny if they have the will. All they have to do is set fire to themselves or others as the case requires.

Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi) with Mummy Ji (Yun Ji-Min)

Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi) with Mummy Ji (Yun Ji-Min) in the background

So now we get into a realignment. The Sky Lord Chun and his bottle of booze that, magically, never needs replenishing, takes off to test his skills against the best of the rest around Korea leaving Yeo Woon in charge. Kim Kwang-Taek leads the now sober and completely boring Baek Dong-Soo off into the mountains so they can produce the definitive form of martial arts. Yoo Ji-Sun starts a merchant trading group with the help of Hwang Jin-Joo, Hwang Jin-Gi and his bandits (now reformed as apprentice traders). And what’s left of the original military trainees enter the civil service examinations, pass and enter the palace where they can covertly protect the heir. Three years pass in the blink of a scriptwriter’s eye and Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) is looking like an increasingly leaky ship that will sink before arriving in port. The real problem lies in the unappealing nature of the primary characters. Ji Chang-Wook starts off as the superficial braggart with no skills and we’re now to see him as reformed and instantly likeable. Yoo Seung-Ho is doing is best but the script is not allowing him to be obviously good or bad. It’s impossible to root for him to be good if he really is good from the outset. Jeon Kwang-Leol is the epitome of cool and never says anything unless it’s absolutely necessary. He does smile wistfully but that’s not enough. Yoon So-Yi has the best part as the tomboy with a crush on our hero and Shin Hyun-Bin has never smiled, walking around as if death can’t come quickly enough to release her from this burden.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 1 to 5
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 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

Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 6 to 10

December 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Those of who read these reviews of sageuk Korean drama will know my attention span is short and although the opening was not unpromising as we ran through the backstory, the newly adult bunch are proving to be boring. We need to start with the political rationale for all this toing-and-froing. It seems to be driven by two quite different issues. Externally, the Qing Empire seems worried the Koreans will invade at some time in the future. According to the backstory, an earlier King did a comprehensive geographical survey and identified the most effective route for an army to attack and overwhelm Chinese defences. Let’s put to one side the problems of reliability in military maps. The actual lay of the land does not change that much, even with some deforestation through the development of agriculture. However, the disposition of troops and the construction of walls round defensible sites, the placement of outposts to monitor for movements of troops. . . are all subject to change. The idea the Qing Empire would be alarmed by the prospect of Crown Prince Sado (Oh Man-Seok) launching an invasion seems excessively paranoid. Then we come to the Norons. I really can’t see why they have taken such a dislike to Sado. Although he might not directly favour the Noron faction, he’s clearly pro-Korea and, as a good patriot, should be popular. It’s all rather baffling as to why everyone should be plotting to bring him down. That said, Hong Dae-Joo (Lee Won-Jong) is great fun as the evil guy even if his motivation is, for now, obscure.

Baek Dong-Soo (Yeo Jin-Goo) and Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) apparently on the same side

Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook) and Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) apparently on the same side

Then we come to the status of Hoksa Chorong. This is a guild of assassins that, in theory, sells its services to the highest bidder although we only see its interaction with the Noron faction. Allowing for differences in skill level, it’s run by Chun (Choi Min-Su), a morose drunk, Ji (Yun Ji-Min), his “wife”, and In (Park Cheol-Min), a looney coward who has been losing body parts and an alarming number of supposedly highly trained assassins in his various expeditions. There’s a remarkable attrition rate in the black masked brigade of killers. Whenever they come up against anyone who can actually fight, they fall like flies. It’s inconceivable this organisation could actually survive. Where would all these incompetent people come from to keep filling the ranks of the masked? This is not to deny the skills of the drunk and his “wife”. They are in the elite of Korea. But they seem to have their own agenda and bend the instructions to suit themselves. Making all this even more murky, Ji seems to have had a child thanks to Kim Kwang-Taek (Jeon Kwang-Leol). The daughter, Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi) has been brought up as the natural child of Hwang Jin-Gi (Sung Ji-Ru), a bandit and apparent traitor. The fact of a birth is known by both Chun and Ji but, so far, Kim Kwang-Taek does not seem aware of a daughter’s existence (it’s a secret who the father is, of course). With this love triangle, you see why Chun is a bit depressed and prefers to drink himself to sleep.

Chun (Choi Min-Su) wondering where his next drink is coming from

Chun (Choi Min-Su) wondering where his next drink is coming from

However, central in this drama are Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook) and Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho). The annoyingly cocky titular character is so full of himself without the discipline to train and genuinely improve his skills. He’s also flooded with testosterone and lacks all normal social skills. He therefore lusts mightily after Yoo Ji-Sun (Shin Hyun-Bin) but has the sex appeal of a daft puppy. However, he’s unfailingly loyal to Yeo Woon, being prepared to lose his arm to defend him. Yeo Woon, however, is the mole planted by Hoksa Chorong. He’s the only one to come out of their training school to have any skills — that’s why he never has to wear one of the black masks which always means instant decapitation or disembowelling. This pair epitomise the tension between warriors and assassins, and mirror the mutual respect between Chun and Kim Kwang-Taek. Indeed, Yeo Woon goes on to save Baek’s arm which would otherwise have been removed after a snake bite. They could not be more different. Baek is a braggard but slowly catching up to Yeo Woon in skills. Yeo Woon is taciturn but increasingly coming to terms with his own demons — he now acknowledges that he killed his own father, a fact he had been trying to forget.

Kim Kwang-Taek (Jeon Kwang-Leol) — he's the sword saint, i.e. the best

Kim Kwang-Taek (Jeon Kwang-Leol) — he’s the sword saint, i.e. the best

The story is moving with the pace of a snail. Our heroes have completed their early training and, to celebrate their arrival in the palace and cement their place in the affections of all, beat up the sons of the nobility and upper class on the training ground. As a reward they are sent out into the wilds to guard a small section of the wall with Qing. Sado finally gets to see the map tattooed on Yoo Ji-Sun‘s back and has it copied. Now all he has to do is get rid of the tattoo without killing her. We then have an attempt to kill our heroes by staging a beacon lighting test immediately after heavy rain. Failure to complete the lighting sequence of beacons means instant execution. This challenge encourages the two young men to co-operate to get the job done. It’s all rather petty as more people find out about the map and plan to kill off the Crown Prince. It’s not that the plot is lacking invention or that the acting is deficient. It’s just milking every moment instead of getting on with things. Unless the pace picks up, I’m going to lose interest.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 1 to 5
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

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