Damo


Reviewed by: il_mare

May 19, 2004

Rating: five

MBC Mon/Tues miniseries (2003)- 14 episodes
For MBC homepage for this drama (in Korean), go to: www.imbc.com/broad/tv/drama/damo/index.html
Aired on MBC in Korea: July 28, 2003 - September 9, 2003 on Monday & Tuesday nights at 9:55.

Cast:
Jang Chae-ok/Jang Jae Hee (23): Ha Ji Won (Secret/Beautiful Life)
Hwangbo Yoon (31): Lee Suh Jin (Her House/Since We Met)
Jang Sung-baek (30): Kim Min Joon
Ma Chook-ji (35): Lee Moon Sik
Ta Bak-nyu (34) : No Hyun Hee (Trap of Youth/Snowflakes)
Jo Se-ok (50): Park Young Kyu
Baek Jo-wan (32) Lee Han Wee (Autumn Story)
Lee Won-hae (30): Kwon Oh Joong (Hello! Balbari)
Ahn Byung-taek (23): Shin Seung Hwan
Ahn Nok-sa (49): Yoon Moon Sik
Jung Pil-joon (Minister of War, 52): Jung Wook
Choi Dal-pyung (45): Jung Ho Keun
No Kak-chool (40): Kwan Yong Woon
Kato Masayuki (30): Ahn Kye Bum
Emperor: Sun Woo Jae Duk (Trio/My Lady)

Staff:
Writer: Jung Hyung Soo
Producer: Lee Jae Kyu (Housewife's Rebellion/Kukhee)

Synopsis

A long time ago in Korea, during the time of the Chosun Dynasty, there was a profession for women called 'Damo'. The Damo were regarded to be of the lowest class status and work as policewomen but they had the privilege to investigate ladies' private room and interview the ladies of the high society whom no man could approach. However, due to their low social status they were treated no better than the humble slaves in the society. They were not free from the suffocating society that is full of prejudice towards their class and their sex.

This drama depicts the life of a Damo named Chae-Ok. She was of noble birth, but was downgraded to be a slave due the downfall of her family when she was seven. Her father committed suicide due to the persecution of the court, and she was separated from her brother and mother when they were trying to escape the imperial guards. She was captured and assigned to serve in the Hwangbo residence as a servant, and specifically to look after the young master Hwangbo Yoon. They were put under the tutelage of a highly skilled master.

She is undefeatable when it comes to using the sword. She is straight, honest, courageous and upright. She possesses the advanced idea for living that could not be accepted by the conventions of the society. She finds herself trapped by the injustice of the world and the prejudice of society, which makes life unbearable for her. Her only motivation in life is to assist her young master to achieve his ambition. She shares a complex relationship with Yoon, who is also the superior of the police team that she works under. Yoon is her closest kin since she was separated from her brother and mother.

Yoon’s mother was the concubine of an honorable man and this has been his scar since he was small. He adores his people like his own brother but would not outwardly express his feelings. He yearns to achieve more than what society has assigned him. He is in love with Chae-Ok. But they are from two different classes, and his father had instructed Yoon at his deathbed never to choose Chae-Ok as his partner as she is the daughter of a disgraced family.

While working undercover on a counterfeit case, Chae-Ok finds herself drawn to Jang Sung-baek, the mysterious and charismatic leader of a gang of bandits she has infiltrated. Sung-Baek is also an outstanding swordsman. He takes care of his people but he also has a ruthless side that would never forgive anyone who does not share his thought. He feels himself falling for Chae-Ok and tries to convince her to join him. Chae-Ok cannot betray her loyalty to Yoon and turn against the law for Sung-baek, yet she is not able to arrest Sung-baek during the crucial moment of the police attack. This eventually leads to dire consequences as the rebels, in their plot to topple the Emperor’s rule, use Chae-OK as a pawn to double-cross Yoon and his team during their investigation of the counterfeit ring.

Chae-Ok and Yoon eventually realise that Sung-baek is not a common thief/bandit, but the leader of a guerilla army training to overthrow the Emperor. Sung-baek’s gang is protesting against the the prejudice brought about by the caste system, which is suffocating the people.

Sung-baek decides to forget Chae-Ok as he knows that loving her will ruin his big dream of destroying the old world order and to set up a new justice to the world. Chae-Ok also resolves to arrest Sung-baek to redeem herself for her betrayal to Yoon. Yoon on the other hand, seeing Chae-Ok slipping away from him because of Sung-baek, unleashes his feelings to her with heart-breaking consequences as well. How will it all end for Yoon, Chae-Ok and Sung-baek who are entangled together by love, loyalty and betrayal?

Review

Have you ever watched a serial that makes your heart ache so much that you feel that your chest is squeezed the entire time, yet your tear ducts are clogged from all the pain and no tears can fall? That is the feeling I had when I watched Damo. The love story of the 3 leads hurts so much that with each episode you yearn for at least one of them to find happiness, but alas the writers of the story will not grant you that peace.

I am not one to go for tragedies and I hate sad endings. I make it a point to find out the endings (so that I know whether it is worthy of my time) before I watch anything. But I think I have broken that rule with Damo.

Reading about the buzz surrounding this beautiful serial was too much for me, and I jumped on the first chance to catch it when I came across a dubbed copy of the serial in Mongkok. Despite the terrible quality, (it was well translated but hideously dubbed by different voices for the same character!!) I am so taken with the story, the performance of the leads, the wonderful dialogue and the unconventional method that was used to deliver a period drama. I think MBC weaves the best stories around!

The plot was fast-paced (unusual for Korean dramas) and brilliantly set up with a fair mix of action, drama, excitement, love and pain to keep viewers glued to the story from beginning to end. There were heroes and villains, people standing on different sides of the law, each with different views on what a better world should be. The writers did not overload the serial and focus on the love story alone, but were able to expand the plot to create an intriguing tale about politics, conspiracy, loyalty and betrayal.

The story tells of a Damo, Chae-Ok and her undying loyalty to her young master, and the complex relationship they share. All these are put to the test when she falls in love with a rebel bandit leader. The setting of the serial is a feudal Chosun dynasty where times were very different from modern days. Society was classified into strict and specific castes, and it was considered a crime to cross the boundaries of your caste.

Despite her lowly status, Chae-Ok is beautiful, intelligent, resourceful and a great swordswoman possessing great martial arts abilities. She is also a dedicated law enforcer, and stands for what she believes, which is considered a behaviour beyond her time. She throws herself completely into her task as a Damo to support her young master, who is the head of the Police force, in his cause.

Yoon is her young master and her closest kin since she was separated from her family while escaping arrest from the imperial guards. They share a relationship so deep and so close that they are willing to sacrifice their lives for each other. But due to the difference in their social status, they have both banished any thoughts of a possible union together. But Yoon’s affection for Chae-Ok are unleashed completely with the appearance of Jang.

I think Chae-Ok loves Yoon but as she is so indoctrinated with the strong social rift between them, she has never considered herself worthy of Yoon’s love.

What I did not understand was why Yoon didn't rescue her from her sad predictment as a slave. Why didn't he do anything for her? Why was he reacting to his feelings for Chae-Ok only when Jang appeared? Isn't it too late?

Jang seemed to see through Chae-Ok's sufferings, someone who was trapped in a social status that she did not belong. I think she was smitten when Jang told her to leave everything behind and start life afresh with the bandit brothers. She never considered that she, a slave, could put the past behind her and pursue the freedom that she yearned for. No one ever posed any hope of a better future to her, except Jang.

I don’t understand why the writers let the audience in on the fact that Jang and Chae-Ok were related fairly early on in the serial, and why their relationship was set up in that way baffles me. Perhaps it is to explain the connection/attraction they shared with their initial meeting. Or was it to keep the audience guessing what next? Or perhaps it was a way to mend Chae-Ok and Sung-baek's eventual parting because they served different sides of the law, and their differences could only be reconciled through blood! I refuse to believe that the writers started out with such a devastating ending for all!!!

As Chae-Ok, HJW's outstanding execution of all the heart breaking scenes struck a deep impression in the audience with her Damo character. Chae-Ok is such an imposing character when she is at work, exuding so much confidence and courage. Yet HJW was able to exhibit the insecurities of Chae-Ok's because of her social status, the pain of her hopeless existence, the continuation of the state of her life for her future generation vividly flashed across me as I write this review. I have never seen any character as repressed as Chae-Ok, the way she replies Jang about why she plays dumb to the suffocating class she is trapped in, the way she pleads with Yoon to let her go undercover, the way she tries to save Yoon's life by entering the palace, the way she holds Jang back in the caves when Yoon is calling out for her, the way she wriggles madly to a dying Yoon, etc etc. HJW played Chae-Ok to perfection. (Don’t you think she looks like the Taiwanese actress Joey Wong?)

LSJ portrayed the controlled Yoon very well as well. His passionate and insecurities are only exposed when Chae-Ok is in danger. His expressions as he hugs Chae-Ok when he agrees to let her go undercover, and when he tries to threaten the imperial doctor to save Chae-OK are all so well timed and convincing! LSJ moves between the 2 faces (the impartial law enforcer and the passionate lover) of Yoon with seamless execution.

The relationship that Yoon and Chae-Ok shared was more complex and repressed, the writers had my heart squeezed to the point of exploding with every LSJ and HJW scene. I personally felt that it was more difficult to deliver than the attraction that Sung-baek and Chae-Ok had. LSJ and HJW were outstanding with their subtle yet convincing performances.

Jang, the bad boy always wins the girl. KMJ's eyes emitted such intensity and I thought I would not find another actor with such a burning gaze after LBH. The passion Jang felt for his people, the hate he held toward society, the ruthlessness he showed to his enemy and the softness he displayed in Chae-Ok presence all demonstrated KMJ's versatility in portraying Jang Sung-baek, the burdened leader of his people. Such a strong masculine image that makes you weak at your knees, when you make eye contact. (Especially in the cave scene when he tells Damo that he loves her and that if there’s an afterlife, never to meet again), sigh, he can rescue me anyday!

The filming was very stylishly done, especially the fighting scenes. The martial art moves are definitely “Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon” inspired. All those walking on walls and hopping around bamboo trees! (Never knew kung-fu existed in ancient Chosun). The way the camera went fast forward, incorporating pop music to indicate intensity to the pace, and speed to the fighting scenes was pretty cool and refreshing. And to top all these, the dialogue just tears you apart and melts you down. With such outstanding actors to deliver these lines, Damo will go down as a great serial!

If there were any flaws it would be the ending. As with most Korean serials, it was abrupt and I felt that the writers were cowards in their approach by not offering the audience a resolution to the question : Who does Chae-Ok love? Maybe it was doomed from the start and there was never any chance for the 3 leads and perhaps death is another way for them to start over in another life with a better footing?

How can anything so sad be made so beautiful!

I am beginning to think it is a Korean culture to beautify tragic moments!

I have to get my hands on a non-dubbed but subtitled copy of the serial to watch all over again, can’t wait to hear all their voices in Korean.

My fav scenes
=============

1) When Yoon is cleaning Chae-Ok's wounds under the tree, while flower petals were falling in the background. He tells her that he will not sacrifice her to achieve his goals in life.
2) Every time Jang watches Chae-Ok with admiration before she infiltrates his rebel camp.
3) Yoon hugs Chae-Ok and tells her to return safely from her undercover assignment.
4) Yoon threatens the imperial doctor to save Chae-Ok.
5) Yoon attending to Chae-Ok in the mountains after she is seriously injured in the palace.
6) Chae-Ok crying over her parents' tablets in the temple, and Jang running after her.
7) The first time Yoon tells Chae-Ok that he loves her.
8) Cave scene when Jang tells Chae-Ok that the first time he saw her he wanted to lay down his sword, and just before Jang passes out from the poison of the scorpion, tells Chae-Ok that he loves her and that if there was an afterlife, never to meet again.
9) The cave scene (again) when Chae-Ok covers Jang's mouth when Yoon is calling out to her.
10) Yoon tells Chae-Ok to leave with him and be with him, but Chae-Ok tells him she has given her heart away.
11)Yoon and Chae-Ok speaking with the door closed and Yoon tells Chae-Ok that he will treat her nothing more than just a Damo.
12)Chae-Ok wriggles to a dying Yoon on the beach after Jang strikes him.

What I don't comprehend
=======================

1) I thought the Emperor was not a baddie at all, can't find the reason why they should revolt except for the fact that there were some corruption around.
2) Jang, being the smart man that he was, how could he not know that he was being manipulated by Choi and Jung.
3) Why didn't Yoon try to improve/uplift Chae-Ok's social status? If they could do it for the pickpocket (as part of a deal to work for the Police as an undercover spy with Chae-Ok), why not Chae-Ok?
4) How could Chae-Ok survive after being slashed so severely in the palace?
5) I thought the masters of Yoon and Jang were the same, I swear they look the same.....
6) Why did Jang let Chae-Ok kill him? For love, for atonement?

Watch this serial, and fall madly, madly, madly in love with it!


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