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Author: Jks EelBeth from ECI
Photo credits: SBS
Daebak continues to impress me on so many levels, with each episode. The acting of course, has been superb. Jang Keun Suk has taken yet another leap forward in his acting abilities, and is impressive next to even the most well-regarded of the older actors. His ability to create a distinct chemistry with each of the other characters truly shows his skill.
Episode 11 opens with the confrontation at the gambling room, where Dae Gil has found In Jwa and his new thugs. In Jwa’s smirking question, “Have you become a tiger now”, was met with the most perfect answer, layered with innuendo. “Why would a man become an animal?” was both a humorous reply, and one that jabbed right at In Jwa as being a man who has stopped being a man, and has lowered himself to become a beast in pursuit of his revenge. It gives us a great deal of insight into the long hard thinking that Dae Gil has done, perhaps thanks to his mentor, Kim Chae Gun. Dae Gil is no longer driven mad with his rage, he has settled into his new life, and he will pursue justice without becoming an animal.
This opening scene also, at last, gave me a feeling of In Jwa as a well rounded character. When Dae Gil left, and In Jwa flashed back to his own past, it was the first time that I felt true compassion and sadness for him, and the first time I understood his (misguided) behavior.
The scene of his naïve youth, learning the flowery words of Confucius and believing them fully….. then being punished for following those convictions….the sense of injustice he felt was overwhelming. And then to have his family murdered, maybe in part due to his childish naïve words, was a wound to his soul that he could never heal. The first many episodes left me thinking he was just the cold calculating evil villain. Even if we knew before that his family had been killed by the king, we now know the circumstances, and how he must feel an unbearable responsibility for it as well. Whether his youthful idealistic words caused it or not, the timing crushed him and twisted his logic. It led to the Lee In Jwa who sees that nothing is as important as bringing about the idealistic world he once dreamed of, because only that will soothe his conscience and give meaning to his family’s death. In this, I now understand and pity him. But he is still wrong… and I still can’t wait to see Dae Gil crush this man who was twisted by his sad fate—particularly since In Jwa has attempted to replay the events of his own life onto Dae Gil’s. He has sought to change Gae Ddong into Dae Gil, just as he was reborn from his innocent youth to the In Jwa we see today. But in Dae Gil’s response, “Why would a man become an animal?” we can see that In Jwa is failing to create the monster he wants.
Nevertheless, In Jwa relays to his guard that someday everyone will know the name of Baek Dae Gil, because in order to change the world they live in, to give the people the power, the change must come from someone with the king’s blood, but one who didn’t grow up in the palace sitting at the king’s feet. It must be someone like Dae Gil, who has lived at the bottom of society and can see the need for change.
We will see just how much Dae Gil and In Jwa have in common in their goals for change, and how far apart they remain on the method to achieve it.
Moving on past that very pivotal scene, we watch Prince Yeoning talk to an old merchant and convince him to give up the secret accounting book that shows all kinds of bribes flowing between ministers and merchants. The old man agrees to give it to him instead of In Jwa, as long as the Prince promises to protect his life.
The Bromance continues! I really enjoy the chemisty of Dae Gil and Yeoning… they manage to pull off the chemistry of real brothers, flawlessly. The mix of admiration and exasperation is spot on. Yeoning asks Dae Gil about Dam Seo, but after flashing to the last time he saw her in the woods with the Prince, Dae Gil claims to have more important things to think about.
Yeoning chides Dae Gil on his manners, but then asks him to be comrades with the same goals (In Jwa). Neither one is quite ready to give up their exact plans though, and so no cooperation is established yet. When asked if he knows why the king gave him that sword, Dae Gil’s response was another insight into just how deeply he has considered his position and his responsibilities. And also, just how deeply Kim Chae Gun has left his mark on him too. After flashing back to Chae Gun saying, “there are two kinds of swords. Swords that kill, and swords that save lives…. Which do you have?”… Dae Gil responds to Yeoning’s question by saying that the meaning of the sword is “One swift act rather than thinking 100 times”. Although I love this line, it does make me worry that our hero might still be a bit rash sometimes!
Perhaps hearing Dae Gil’s words, though, inspired Yeoning to action as well. In the next scene, he confronts the King, the Crown Prince, and all the ministers, to tell them of all the things he wants to see abolished…. Branding or death for small crimes, the merchant monopoly blocking out small merchants, and other unfair things taking place. He waves around the accounting book and even his father seems almost ill at the thought of changing all those laws. But the book is only half of the proof—only showing one side of the transactions. And without the other half, no one is quite convinced (or shamed enough) to follow his ideas. Yeoning now knows he must find that other half.
Meanwhile, Dae Gil has met back up with Eyepatch Grandpa after another number of years, and their reunion affirms what Yeoning was talking about, Grandpa’s illegal fabrics booth is busted and all his wares taken. They go back home, where they look over a map of the area, and Dae Gil lays out his plan of attack. Hong Mae he says, is In Jwa’s right hand, and the shaman at Wolhyanggak is his left. The thugs Six Ghost, Cutter, and Gol Sa are In Jwa’s legs, which Dae Gil says he will cut off first. Remembering poor Seol Im who lost her family and her happy life thanks to Six Ghost, Dae Gil says he will take out Six Ghost first.
The next few scenes revolve around: Yeoning trying to warn the Crown Prince once again of In Jwa’s involvement in shady shady business… In Jwa feeling smug about how little Yeoning understands of who has been paid off and how to deal with the Noron and Soron factions as well as the merchants… The King feeling annoyed and overwhelmed by ministers worried about Yeoning’s words…. And Lady Choi’s worry for her son’s life, as he becomes increasingly more obvious about his plans. At the same time, we see her own health fade for the first time (in actual history she died before the King, so this may be the first hint of that sad event)
The story then returns to the older merchant who gave up the accounting book to Yeoning. Drinking while under heavy guard, he suddenly falls down dead, poisoned by none other than Hong Mae, who we see calmly walking away from the scene, and going to inform In Jwa that the deed was done. We also see that In Jwa has promised her if she does 3 things for him, he will return her gambling hall to her. This one being the first of those deeds, I am anxious to see what else he asks of her, and how far she is willing to go to get her gambling hall back.
Yeoning (having just been accosted by a man angered at the loss of his ‘father’, the old merchant) strolls over to the pavilion where In Jwa is leisurely drinking with his band of miscreants, informs the miscreants that they should not expect to live long, since In Jwa so easily kills anyone in the way…..and then does one of the most satisfying things I have seen so far in the drama. He punches In Jwa square in the face, hard!! (YESSS.)
Yeoning returns to his own guard’s side, and tells him to find the man who claimed to be the old man’s son. In the next scene, that man and several others are tied up in front of the Prince. They are all secret members of a small merchants’ alliance, which is directly opposed to the current laws concerning merchants, set forth by the King. They also hold the other half of the secret accounting book that Yeoning needs. The Prince promises that he is on their side, and in order to prove it, he takes on their challenge: get their slave papers back from Six Ghost. They have all had to borrow money and been branded by that monster, and if the Prince gets their contracts, they will trust him and release to him the other half of the accounting book.
In the final portion of the drama, we are horrified to walk into Seosomun, where Six Ghost rules. It is full of filth, death, and despair. Everyone is crying it seems. Dae Gil comforts one little crying boy, and gives him a rice cake to eat, and watches the crowd as they sign their slave contracts and lose their freedom to Six Ghost. Just as one woman’s cries almost make him leap into action, Yeoning arrives in Seosomun and chides him for still acting without thinking. Dae Gil, swinging right from hero mode into big brother mode, teases back, “better than only talking.”
While Dae Gil throws a knife at Six Ghost’s table, and probably fights a few men, Yeoning goes to the gambling hall where he needs to be in order to access the slave records. Without money, he will have to value himself, and have that value stamped on his arm. In Six Ghost’s world, if you then lose your bets, you must be a slave to him to pay off your value. Soon Yeoning is joined in line by Dae Gil. Dae Gil convinces the clerk to stamp him with the high value of 100 nyang, and hilariously, in one of the funniest moments of this episode, the Prince has to accept 30 nyang as his value.
They squabble about their values, and then burst in to the gambling hall, where Yeoning immediately abandons Dae Gil to fight off several men. While Dae Gil fights, Yeoning goes to the basement to find the records (but runs into the Buddha-carving swordsman who is loyal to In Jwa).
Dae Gil meanwhile sits down to a game of Baduk with Six Ghost (not real chess-style Baduk, but the unrefined version where stones flick and knock other stones off the table), but in a move that highlights his depravity, Six Ghost dusts random slaves with black and white powder and says they will be human Baduk stones. We are left to assume that if a stone is hit, a slave will die. Dae Gil slowly extends his fingers toward his sword hilt as Six Ghost threatens to flick the first stone. In the end, Dae Gil brings his sword crashing down to break the board, before Six Ghost can possibly cause a slave to die. He is unwilling to give up any of their lives.
At this moment, in the final act of the scene, Seol Im strolls calmly in to the room, looking quite well. She looks clean, well-taken care of, and we wonder just how and why she could be here looking relatively happy in the den of the man who destroyed her life. Dae Gil can only utter in disbelief, “Seol Im?” before the camera cuts away and we bang our fists on the table because we have to wait another week to find out what happens next.
This episode gave us some great insights into both Lee In Jwa’s true character and motivations, and how Dae Gil’s life both mirrors and rejects it. I am looking forward to more exploration of Dae Gil’s beliefs and goals, and how he will manage to walk the path of justice without becoming an animal. [END]