KissAsian.com calls it The Royal Gambler. Viki.com uses the title Jackpot, and DramaFever.com lists it as Daebak, but whatever you choose to call it, this particular “fictional drama based on historical events” is definitely entertaining. It’s a big production – actors, costumes, music, scenery, plot… I finished the 24 episode drama much faster than I thought I would (six days, I think) because, as it turns out, it’s simply good entertainment.
Lee In-Jwa has always blamed the government for the death of his family when he was a young boy and has vowed to kill King Sukjong and overthrow the government no matter what it takes. He’ll need a puppet monarch to sit on the throne once the king is dead so In-Jwa orchestrates an elaborate plan to take control of a royal heir. He sets things up so King Sukjong falls in love with a lowly water maid. It’s not a problem for the king to have a concubine but the woman he wants is already married to Baek Man-Geum, a gambling addict. Things are manipulated so Man-Geum looses his wife to King Sukjong in a bet and just six months later, Suk-Bin, who now belongs to the king, gives birth to a healthy baby boy. Rumors begin to spread throughout the palace that the baby couldn’t possibly be the king’s son, which makes Suk-Bin nervous for the safety of her child. She confides in a trusted guard, telling him her concerns, and has him find a dead male baby to switch with her son. Following Suk-Bin’s orders, the guard sneaks off with her boy and gives him to Man-Geum who assumes the child is his son and names him Baek Dae-Gil, leaving Suk-Bin to mourn the death of “her son” along with everyone in the palace.
Many years pass and Suk-Bin has two other boys by the King but still wonders about the life her first born, who is rightly a prince, may be leading with Man-Guem as his “father”. Meanwhile, evil Lee In-Jwa is further along in his plot to overthrow the government. When he locates Dae-Gil he decided to keep tabs on him so he can use the young man and eventually place him on the throne as a token king while he rules things from behind the scenes. Gambler Dae-Gil meets a rich young man, Yeongjo, who is even slicker at gambling than he is but has no idea the man is actually a prince, second in line for the throne. Will the two men clash or become fast friends, and are their fates intertwined for good or evil?
Baek Dae-Gil is a determined, idealistic young man with a positive personality. He’s learned about gambling from his father and wants to be the best gambler ever. He has a strong sense of justice and empathizes easily with others. He also has a tremendous ability to persevere physically, mentally, and emotionally, no matter what the odds.
With his mother being a commoner, Prince Yeongjo has had a difficult struggle trying to get others to see him as royalty and one deserving of sitting on the throne someday. He knows of Lee In-Jwa’s desire to overthrow the king and take control of the government and works tirelessly to arrest and convict the horrible man before his evil plot is carried out.
Revenge is Lee In-Jwa’s one and only desire. It’s what drives him on, sacrificing anyone and anything that gets in the way of his dream coming true. Always staying one step away from the law, he has waited over 20 years to see his plan come into fruition. He will see the destruction of King Sukjong no matter what it takes.
Sukjong is first and foremost a king. That position comes before anything, including his family. He is emotionally distant from his children because he sees sympathy as a form of weakness. He knows the child that was born three months premature to Suk-Bin is truly his son but goes along with pretending he died to protect the boy.
We first come to know Baek Man-Geum as a poor, pathetic man with a gambling addiction. However, when he looses everything because of a bet, he begins to realize what is really important and make the changes necessary for him to be a father his son can rely on.
It’s been three years since we last saw Jang Keun-Suk (Baek Dae-Gil) in a Kdrama. He began his career modeling at the age of five, then, during his junior high school years he went to live in New Zealand and attended Nelson College to learn English and Japanese. As a result, he can speak both languages on a casual conversational level. He’s an amazing solo singer and has made records singing in Korean, Chinese and Japanese. He ranked 29th on Mnet’s Top 100 Adorable Males list in 2006 and then zoomed his way up to number 3 on their top 100 Must Have Males list the very next year! Keun-Suk is famous for playing characters with a gorgeous flower boy look – Kang Mu-Guyl in Mary Stayed Out All Night, Hwang Tae-Kyung in You’re Beautiful, “Momo” in You’re my Pet, and many others. However, I’ll never forget seeing him play, Arthur Patterson, a psychotic murder suspect, in the feature film The Case of Itaewon Homicide, based on a true story. His acting is so good, I felt quite uneasy every time he came on screen.
Eighteen year old Yeo Jin-Goo (Crown Prince Yeongjo) was cast in his first movie when he was just eight and he’s been in 13 feature films, 18 Kdramas, and one theater production since then! He’s won 13 of the 24 awards he’s been nominated for over the years. One I thought was impressive is the Child Actor to Man award he received at the sixth Style Icon Awards.
I recently saw Jun Kwang-Ryul (Lee In-Jwa) in the Kdrama Remember. He played a sweet Alzheimer’s sufferer who had been set up to take the blame for murdering a young woman. That’s quite a far jump to his character in this show – an evil, scheming man bent on ruining an entire kingdom. Kwang-Ryul is an award-winning veteran actor whose work has been mostly in Kdramas. He’s won several awards, the most interesting being the 44th Taxpayer’s Day Model Taxpayer Citation. (Maybe paying taxes wouldn’t be so bad if we got awards for doing it.)
This drama spans at least a 30 year year period from beginning to end. And speaking of “end”, Daebak‘s ending is perfect, absolutely perfect. There’s no other way I would have wanted the story to wrap up. At the end of the show, Dae-Gil is telling his master he wishes a man would not have to harden himself once he becomes a king. I thought the master’s response was very profound and it provided a great segue into the last minute of the story…”That’s the path a king must take. He walks a dangerous road with his life on the line and at the end he is left with his ego and power. Also, loneliness. Unless you sit in that seat, you will never understand.” I felt satisfied and comforted watching the last few seconds that followed that remark. Although I loved the ending, the beginning is a bit confusing. When the show was over I went back and watched the first scene again to try and figure out it’s time frame. All I could come up with was that it must have taken place just before the ending. Either that or a dream Dae-Gil had. I’m going with the first.
Remember the good old Rocky movie training scenes? Every Rocky movie has at least one. Well, writer Kwon Soon-Gyu, put a few Dae-Gil training scenes into Daebak to entertain us – sword fighting, archery and push-ups along with some gambling skills and tricks. Some things reminded me of what Jackie Chan does in Snake in Eagle’s Shadow. We get to watch as Dae-Gil transforms from a “wanna be” warrior into a skilled, best-of-the-best guardian of the people.
As good as this drama is I did notice some directing/editing mistakes. I’m not really sure who should be held responsible for things that go unnoticed – things like a mortally wounded character spitting up blood, it running all down their chin, but having a perfectly clean face when we next see that person, dead. Sorry folks, but I’m the type of person that notices little things like that. They may just seem like trivial overlooked things to some people but to me they’re giant, noticeable mistakes and this drama has several of those kinds of things.
The music is perfect for an epic historical drama. Intense classical kinds of songs are played, along with a few love song ballads. The scenery is gorgeous – things like bare forests, jagged cliffs, peaceful rivers, muddy salt fields… Prince Yeongjo’s grand palace stands in obvious contrast to the tiny hut-style shelters Dae-Gil calls home and the royal attire stands out among the peasants’ drab, dirty clothing. The show is a visual buffet.
I’m not really sure why I’m not that fond of historical dramas. Perhaps it’s because I know absolutely nothing about Korean history. Maybe it’s that they make me feel too far removed from anything familiar. It could be that the little tiny bit of Korean I’ve learned from watching Kdramas isn’t the same as the ancient language so I’m thrown off a bit. Whatever it may be, I tend to shy away from them, but I’m glad I watched The Royal Gambler. I really hit the Jackpot with this one.
Great character development
Good sword fighting sequences
Wonderful, diverse scenery and backdrops
The beginning was confusing in the timeline of the plot
A little drawn out
Some inconsistencies here and there