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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

Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 1 to 5

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment

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.

Kim Kwang-Taek (Jeon Kwang-Leol) exchanges pointers with Chun (Choi Min-Su)

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.

Prince Sado (Oh Man-Seok) looking suitably regal

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.

Yeo Woon (Park Geon-Tae) already looking threatening

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.

Baek Dong-Soo (Yeo Jin-Ku) trying to think of a suitable boast

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

Tree With Deep Roots or Deep Rooted Tree or Bboori Gipeun Namoo (2011) — episodes twenty-one to end

November 26, 2012 Leave a comment

We now come into the endgame in Tree With Deep Roots or Deep Rooted Tree or Bboori Gipeun Namoo (2011). With So-Yi (Shin Se Kyung) and the other court ladies sent out of the palace to spread the word about reading, King Sejong (Han Suk Kyu) and Jo Mal-Saeng (Lee Jae-Yong) set out to split Milbon. This has become possible as many of its members in senior political positions are disturbed by the murder of the Crown Prince. However Mr Big Root (Yoon Je Moon) has worked out the point of hiding the release of the women into the countryside and sends out all his men to find them. Meanwhile Lee Shin-Juck (Ahn Seok-Hwan) as Right Minister finds his Milbon allegiance wavering. He’s looking to establish a new faction to protect the original aims of their secret society but marginalise Mr Big Root for killing the Prince. He makes a deal with the Chinese secret service to help him while, on the ground, Milbon begins to split into two. These leaves the King’s men running round the mountains looking for So-Yi.

So-Yi (Shin Se Kyung) and Kang Chae Yoon (Jang Hyuk) distributing the letters

Within Milbon, a power struggle emerges for the soul of the organisation. The opposition to Mr Big Root is led by Sim Jong-Soo (Han Sang-Jin) who believes the leader has sacrificed the primary aim of the organisation through his obsession with preventing the release of the letters. It’s put to the leader he should step down. Meanwhile the King takes Lee Shin-Juck to one side and offers him amnesty if he will give up Mr Big Root, take over Milbon and enter into a debate about the structure of government. This will potentially give Milbon what it wants but, of course, Lee Shin-Juck is reluctant to trust the King. On the mountain, Mr Big Root now has So-Yi and two other ladies in his hands while Kang Chae Yoon (Jang Hyuk) runs around looking for clues. He thinks Gae Pa-Yi (Kim Sung-Hyun) may lead him to Milbon’s secret base but his attempts to contact him fail. Things grow tense.

In the last two episodes, all the immediate plot lines are resolved. There’s some fighting. Not as much as you might expect and the fights we have are not showy but functional to get the job done. And this leads me to an interesting issue to discuss in these final paragraphs. Korean drama in general and sageuks in particular have unresolved issues. Straight history is boring. Indeed, when Korean television first got into historical dramas and did literal versions of the records preserved from past eras, the initial popular interest and excitement quickly evaporated. No matter how fascinating such images may be to scholars, television cannot sustain a purely academic ethos. It’s primarily there for entertainment (although this does not deny the possibility of educational themes in the subtext). It’s the modern bread and circuses to distract the masses.

King Sejong (Han Suk Kyu) steeling himself for the endgame

So here we have a drama about the King’s desire to lift the people from ignorance by giving them a phonetic rather than ideographic system of writing. So for those of us interested in semiotics and postmodernist debates about the function and power of the discourse, this is a classic period of history to examine. Here we have a feudal hierarchy with the King at the top, a corps of noble families, scholars to run the administration, a very small middle class of merchants, a massive class of peasants, and an underpinning of slaves. At this point, I need to mention a “new” suggestion from Gerald Crabtree, a geneticist at Stanford University in California, in two articles published in Trends in Genetics. He offers the opinion that early humans had to be intelligent to survive. Or if they were stupid and made mistakes, they would likely end up dead and not spread their genes. So if we apply this to early Korea, we have a potentially very intelligent group of survivors and the only thing holding them back is the inability to write down their thoughts. By giving them an easy-to-learn notation system, people can suddenly record their thoughts, pass on their experience, and preserve their innovations for future generations. Oral histories can only go so far, depending on the willingness of people to talk to each other. But once ideas are written down, they become more durable. Technology and knowledge can develop and consolidate their hold in society. Of course the written form of discourse is just as open to manipulation as the oral communication route. Those with power have always had control over the official publication process and have been able to use words to deceive the people. But, over time, the people learn to distinguish the real from the unreal. More importantly, they can develop their countercultural information printing facilities to parallel the official discourse. In the West, pamphleteering and broadsides distributed or posted on walls became a thorn in the side of many governments. Anyone can write on a wall in Korea.

The moment Mr Big Root (Yoon Je Moon) realises he’s lost

So for the King to be developing this system is playing with social dynamite. As Milbon puts it, the letters could open the door to Hell, bringing anarchy and destruction. Or it can just begin the slow process of reversing the direction of flow in their society. When the King plans this, the lives of the peasants and slaves are essentially worthless. Centuries after the release, the lives of the Korean people have more equal value and there’s less exploitation. If the development of the language was revolutionary, it has taken a long time for the social wheel to turn. Which leads me to this final thought. Many characters in this drama sacrifice themselves for a cause for and against the language, but the King sails serenely on. Essentially people are disposable tools for getting things done. He can be fond of individuals (including his son), but everything has to be subordinated to achieving what he perceives as the greatest good for the greatest number of people. He’s a walking embodiment of utilitarianism.

Finally, I think the way the series concludes is slightly too obviously didactic. This takes noting away from the central performances by Han Suk Kyu, Jang Hyuk and Shin Se Kyung. They are magnificent throughout albeit Shin Se Kyung doesn’t quite get the role I think she deserves given her importance to the language development program. But the script becomes a little preachy. Yes, the ideas are powerful but, for all the weepiness surrounding the heroic sacrifices made, things could have been neatly tied up without all the moralising. This does not change my view that this sageuk is outstanding and should be seen by as many as possible. But the slow shift in tone as we reached the ending did slightly take me down a notch at the end. Tree With Deep Roots or Deep Rooted Tree or Bboori Gipeun Namoo (2011) is somewhat sad.

For other reviews of this series, see:
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) — 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

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