February 16, 2006

[KOREAN TV DRAMA REVIEWS] 다모 (茶母, Damo)

(Posted In Action Asia Drama Martial Arts Reviews TV Trailer Alert )

damorev.jpg 조선여형사 다모 (茶母, Damo)
a.k.a. The Legendary Police Woman
(Joseon YeoHyeongsa Damo - lit. Female Detective Damo in the Joseon Dynasty)
HD기획특집 미니시리즈 (HD Special Project Miniseries) - MBC TV 2003
14 Episodes - 60 Minutes p.e. (65~70 in Director's Cut for first 12 Episodes, 80~85 Minutes for last two)
Aired from July 28 to September 9, 2003 on MBC
Official Website
Preview (English Subtitles)
Hotelier 2002 Thread (More Video, Discussion, Ep. Synopsis, etc.)

NEXT
해신 (Emperor of the Sea) - KBS 2005

PD
이재규 (Lee Jae-Gyu)

WRITER
정형수 (Jung Hyung-Soo)

CAST
하지원 (Ha Ji-Won) as Chae-Ok, 이서진 (Lee Seo-Jin) as Hwangbo Yoon, 김민준 (Kim Min-Joon) as Jang Sung-Baek, 박영규 (Park Young-Gyu) as Jo Se-Wook, 이문식 (Lee Moon-Shik), 노현희 (No Hyun-Hee), 이한위 (Lee Han-Wi), 권오중 (Kwon Oh-Joong), 신승환 (Shin Seung-Hwan), 윤문식 (Yoon Moon-Shik), 정욱 (Jung Wook), 정호근 (Jung Ho-Geun), 권용운 (Kwon Yong-Woon), 백성현 (Baek Sung-Hyun), 김민경 (Kim Min-Kyung), 변희봉 (Byun Hee-Bong), 정민아 (Jung Min-Ah), CAMEO: 조재현 (Jo Jae-Hyun)

THE SHOW

Sometimes all it takes to make a revolution is stir the pot a little, mix ingredients few people would ever put together. A fusion, as they call it. At the dawn of the Seventies, Korean TV Dramas started what would become their first Golden Age. But contrary to today's TV Drama landscape, the situation was much simpler back then, with no Internet and no Korean Wave to deal with; even genres and target demographics were simpler, or so it looked on the surface: daily dramas like 아씨 (Lady) for her, police procedurals like 수사반장 (Inspector Chief) for him, unless he decided to watch an Historical Drama. With an incredibly complicated and fascinating history like that of the Korean Peninsula, it was like fishing in a water-less pond, with a sniper rifle. Although Historical Dramas were present right from the beginning in some way or form, the first serious examples of the genre started emerging in the early 70s, with Dramas like 장희빈 (Jang Heebin), one of the half dozen versions of Lady Jang's story. Written by Lee Seo-Gu and produced by Yoo Heung-Ryeol, the 1971 show had much more significance than simply featuring one of the country's most (in)famous historical figures: it was MBC's first serious step in the Drama world, something similar to what happened for SBS in 1995 with their 'Special Project' 모래시계 (The Sandglass). With the Drama, set in King Sukjong's reign and telling the story of the most famous concubine in Korean history, the show was the first sign the young station was a force to be reckoned with. Yoon Yeo-Jung, the great veteran of films like Im Sang-Soo's 바람난 가족 (A Good Lawyer's Wife) and countless TV Dramas, was the first to play the role of the famous concubine, which would later make stars out of Lee Mi-Sook, Jeon In-Hwa, and was also played on TV by Jung Seon-Kyung and Kim Hye-Soo.

Even though KBS and TBC were already very active in the 사극 (Sageuk, short for 역사극, Historical Drama) field, in the early 70s MBC started paving the way for what would become a two decade long domination of the genre. Yet, winds of change started appearing in the genre a few years later. Historical Dramas on TV used to be almost documentary-like Historical accounts, following their original text sometimes even to intimidating degrees. But one of the first writer/pd combo of the period, writer Shin Bong-Seung and PD Pyo Jae-Soon, were able to make the first real Fusion Dramas, over two decades before the term would become popular thanks to films like 황산벌 (Once Upon a Time in The Battlefield) and 스캔들 (Untold Scandal). What they did was really simple: noticing women weren't watching those somber, often stoic historical dramas, hard to follow even for the most navigated history buff, they added melodrama and moved the focus from the issues to the characters and their emotional rollercoasters. Their new style of Sageuk attracted a significant portion of the female viewership, and until the early 80s it became the easiest way to make an Historical Drama popular.

damotrio.jpgThe 80s brought many changes, including colour TV, but some of the best writers of the genre started moving their first important steps in the arena. Im Choong wrote the second 'version' of the Lady Jang saga in 1981, which made Lee Mi-Sook a huge household name. In the following 20 years, Im would become one of the most influential and talented writers in the genre, writing gems like 홍국영 (Hong Guk-Young), 대왕의 길 (King of The Wind) and another 장희빈 (Jang Heebin) version in the mid 90s. Much more political and allegorical than any other writer at the time, Im was certainly 'interpreting' the historical figures he was talking about through his political perspective, but it always made for great TV. Yet, one of the riskiest decisions MBC ever took completely changed the Sageuk landscape in 1983. It was March that year when 조선왕조 500년 (500 Years of Joseon Dynasty) started what would become a legendary 8 year long run, divided into 11 parts, and with over 500 Episodes. Enlisting writer Shin Bong-Seung and a young promising producer by the name of Lee Byung-Hoon, the show followed the history of the Joseon Dynasty through 27 reigns, from the fall of the Goryeo Dynasty and the dawn of Joseon to its fall in 1910. Yet, as much as this series is considered a classic, around the 6-7th part it even risked an early departure, just like some of today's low rated shows.

Because of a huge controversy over some figures represented on one of those shows (shown in a different, less negative way than in the past), viewers started turning away from the show, until 1988's 인현왕후 (Queen In-Hyun) brought fame back to the series. With the country preparing for the Olympic Games, the show had two hugely popular older versions of the story people could compare it with, and the legacy of big stars like Yoon Yeo-Jung and Lee Mi-Sook. But instead of going for established actresses, MBC went for a new face, Jeon In-Hwa. Trying not to repeat the same elements which made the previous series a success, except the obvious (history), Jeon's Lady Jang was a little different from the past, a little more graceful than the cunning, vicious femme fatale the other two versions (along with two films about the same argument, one of which is on DVD). 'Queen In-Hyung', the 8th part of the series, became a hugely popular show even amongst demographics who previously never cared about Historical Dramas, perhaps because they could relate a little more to Jeon In-Hwa's Lady Jang, removed from the histrionics of the past heroines. We'd have to wait until the early 90s to see the start of another Golden Age, but MBC was already well on its way to become the 'Drama Kingdom' of Korean TV. A little under 4 years later, a little drama called 여명의 눈동자 (Eyes of Dawn) hit the airwaves, and TV Dramas started seeing the first signs of a revolution.

Although by no means an Historical Drama (story was fictional), the show took elements of the genre as its background, and wrapped them around strong melodrama, some of the best acting ever seen on Korean TV History, and special effects never seen before in the country. The 'blockbuster Dramas' were born, thanks to the magic duo of Song Ji-Na and Kim Jong-Hak, and MBC started a slow but inexorable descent to the throne of most popular TV station in the country. Something else was happening: audience tastes were changing, with much more variety -- especially Trendy Dramas, appearing in 1992 with MBC's 질투 (Jealousy) -- and freedom of expression thanks to the country's democratization. TV had mostly been dominated, or targeted to older viewers and housewives, and young people were rarely the focus on TV Dramas, with the possible exception of Miniseries. What was the chance a 16-17 year old girl would spend 250 days a year watching a Family Drama about parents not accepting their daughter's latest love interest? But with TNS Media and AGB starting nationwide ratings surveys, the popularity of a show could be measured by everyone, not just industry insiders. And it became much more obvious how much influence younger viewers were starting to have on whether a Drama would become a hit or not. And with Historical Dramas mostly concerned with labyrinthine plots, political intrigue only those versed in the history of the period could understand (longer Sageuk would often end with dialogue-based cliffhangers on the tune of 'Your Majesty, the chief of the Noron Party sent a petition against the nomination of the new chancellor!", and younger viewers would mostly go 'Yeah. And?'). To make a long story short, Historical Dramas (all of them) were in serious crisis, enough to make stations reconsider their broadcasting plans. The traditional Daily Historical Dramas were relegated to Weekends, and although budgets went up thanks to the newfound prosperity of TV Dramas, few were really popular.

namsoonchaeok.jpgBetween 1992 (when AGB started recording ratings nationwide) and 1998, only three Historical Dramas were able to really strike a chord with viewers: two were written by old fox Im Choong, 1995's 장희빈 (Jang Heebin) and 1994's 야망 (Ambition). But it was the third, KBS' 용의 눈물 (Tears of the Dragon) which changed the cards once again. One of the four-five best Historical Dramas of all time, the show changed the paradigm of the genre, unfolding through 160 Episodes over 2 years, upgrading old production techniques, and making Yoo Dong-Geun a huge star. Again focusing on the dawn of the Joseon Dynasty, from Lee Sung-Gye (a fantastic performance by the late, great Kim Mu-Saeng)'s coup d'etat against the Royal Goryeo Family to his bloody rule and palace intrigue to succeed his reign, 'Tears of The Dragon' was high octane intensity from start to finish. Historical Dramas started to have an upsurge in viewership, not only because they improved in quality, but also for understanding the changing times, and putting as much effort on making an exciting show instead of the educational and historically relevant elements of the past only.

Yet, nothing changed Historical Dramas like Lee Byung-Hoon's 허준 (Hur Joon) did in 2000. The large majority of Historical Dramas since the early 70s focused on the palace intrigues of the Joseon Dynasty, or on important figures of earlier periods (generals becoming kings or emperors after overthrowing the former ruler, famous concubines plotting to gain power, politicians scheming against each other, etc.). As interesting as they were, and although many of them had a degree of allegory which sort of captured the mood of time, they still felt distant to most people, with the exception of history buffs and older male viewers. Young females and even college-age viewers wouldn't touch Historical Dramas with a ten foot pole, as they couldn't find anyone they could relate to. It was mostly the evil Yangban plotting against the good one, or viceversa, but it was like staring at two Millionaires fighting each other to make more money, not exactly something exciting for people raised on Choi Jin-Shil Trendy Dramas and Family Dramas with the kind of realism even social protest films of the 80s could rarely reach. So Lee changed everything: he moved out of the palace.

First dramatized in the 1975 show 집념 (Tenacity), and later in PD Lee Jae-Gab's 1991 Miniseries 동의보감 (Dongui Bogam) (adapted from Lee Eun-Sung's original novel), the show told the story of legendary physician Hur Joon (1546-1615), son of a 쌍놈 (commoner) who became a court physician thanks to his deeds, and wrote the 당감의보 (東醫寶鑑, The Treasures of Eastern Medicine), unifying all previous Ming Dynasty-influenced theories about herbal drugs and Joseon's own interpretation, still considered the 'bible' of Traditional Korean Medicine. The show, written by master Choi Wan-Gyu, starred Jeon Gwang-Ryeol as Hur Joon, and reached ratings of over 60%, making it one of the most popular of all time. But why so much popularity, setting aside for a moment the figure's historical importance and his achievement? The show focused on his personal struggle and successes more than simply being a realistic account of the period. Also, Hur was an hero of the people above everything else: he tried to stay out of politics, simplified medicine by writing in Hangeul instead of Hanja (Chinese Characters), and tried to use herbs just about every commoner could find, instead of the expensive and exotic excesses of other doctors. It was no more a group of corrupt court politicians plotting against each other (or at least that wasn't the focus), but someone like us, fighting to the death to fulfill his dreams and aspirations, with a little melodrama thrown in. 'Hur Joon' didn't only change the way MBC intended Historical Dramas, but forced the competition to sit down and learn from them -- although they wouldn't do so until last year, despite somtimes producing great works like 태조왕건 (Wang Gun) and 대망 (The Great Ambition).

What followed was a complete u-turn in subjects, from palace intrigue to the struggle of single figures, like legendary merchant Im Sang-Ok in 상도 (Sang Do) and royal cook Seo Jang-Geum in 대장금 (Dae Jang Geum). SBS tried to copy the formula with shows like 왕의 여자 (The King's Woman) but failed miserably, whereas KBS moved their territory to the Goryeo Dynasty for a few years, with three consecutive Dramas set in the period. Although by 2003 traditional Sageuk still existed, they were few and far between, substituted by this brand of 'new age' Historical Dramas, or more lucrative fictional stories with an historical background. These new Dramas offered two things the old classics never even tried to do: they immersed the viewer in the daily life of its characters in ways that were never explored before (through intense research and better production values), moving the educational elements of the genre from simply showing which new corrupt politician was gaining power to the actual social and technological changes happening in the period. Be it medicine with 'Hur Joon', commerce with 'Sang Do' or cuisine with 'Dae Jang Geum', the shows attracted a bigger audience as they offered more points of interest for different demographics: the intrigue and political scheming for the older male viewers, the melodrama and love stories (albeit in a much subtler way than the average Trendy Drama) for younger females, some action for the boys, and an overall allegorical, inspirational feeling which appealed to everyone. It was 2003, when a young PD embarked on a project which was started and halted a dozen times over the last decade, something which was going to change TV Dramas forever, in a way nobody expected. His name was Lee Jae-Gyu, his debut as producer a show called 다모 (Damo).

After changing the structural and genre-specific fabric of Historical Drama, MBC was going to try something very risky, innovative and even problematic. Past shows already focused on central characters and their development, in ways similar to role-playing games (from rags to riches, so to speak), a far cry from the dozens of characters featured in traditional Sageuk. But 'Damo' for the first time took one of the major staples of Trendy Dramas, the 삼각관계 (love triangle), and used it prominently. Again a first, the show was completely shot with HD Cameras, although they were previously used for Documentaries and short one-two episode specials. Also, although many previous shows had differing degrees of action, it was mostly the more realistic Korean-style, with a mix of streetfight-like warfare and some touches of hapkido/taekwondo: 'Damo' used wire-action, inspired by Hong Kong Wuxia TV Serials and movies. Even more innovative, the show was one of the first to complete a good 80% of its shoot before the first episode aired, as the intensive use of CG, the time-consuming wire action and many other issues often delayed the shoot. But this also had a positive effect, as the production company had more time to cut the rough edges, and offer a product with higher production values, more polished and good looking than most other competitors. Just for those simple reasons, 'Damo' was already a half revolution. But before talking about the other half, what and who exactly were those 'Damo' of the title?

Up to the end of Goryeo and the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty, women were engaged in business practices to a certain degree, even in commerce -- see Madame Jami's intimidating economic clout in the Shilla-based 해신 (Emperor of the Sea) -- yet it all went in flames around the middle of the Joseon Dynasty, heavily influenced by Neo-Confucian values. There were only a handful of occupations left for women: 의녀 (醫女, female physician who would serve female patients instead of men) just like in 'Dae Jang-Geum'; 궁녀 (宮女, Court Ladies serving the royal family), 기녀 (妓女, Female Entertainers... doing you know what), and finally the 다모 (茶母, Damo). Alternatively called 차모 (Tea Ladies), their 'official' profession wasn't too different from normal servants: they'd serve tea and other beverages at official residences, and do other chores. But in late Joseon Dynasty, they assumed another role: tea ladies by day, secret detectives by night (well, not necessarily in that order, but you get my drift). The first 포도청 (Police Bureaus, back then named 'Right' and 'Left' Bureaus, in this series' case left) appeared in 1481, the 12th year of Seongjong's reign, but it wasn't until 400 years later that the first 'Damo' were starting to be used. To fit their needs, Damo had to be no taller than 150 Cms, weigh around 40-45 Kg, be very agile, flexible, and even withstand large quantities of alcohol without getting drunk. What these special forces of female inspectors did was go where male officers couldn't: did they find a dead woman? The Damo would go in instead, inspecting her body to find possible clues. Did they need someone more agile and able to move in small places? They'd use a Damo. Although their role in the force was important, they were discriminated against for essentially being glorified commoners, doing the dirty work instead of the male officers.

damo2.jpgAlthough not much has been written about their special profession, they were mentioned in several historical diaries and annals. But MBC didn't really need that, as they had the perfect source material: Bang Hak-Gi's seminal manhwa 다모 남순이 (Damo Nam-Soon). Bang is an almost legendary figure in the manhwa world, from deviating from the dichotomies of historical manhwas, and actually doing extensive research about the themes he wanted to cover. This particular work first started appearing in the early 70s, a sort of feminist ode to 'career women' in the Joseon Dynasty, with a very strong central figure (Nam-Soon, a Damo), independent and constantly trying to solve things with her own means. This was a special work for Bang, who used Nam-Soon's character as a tribute to his older sister (also called Nam-Soon), who after raising him alone for 20 years died of tuberculosis. Showing this independent woman succeeding in life with her own forces was Bang's way of paying tribute to his sister, who grew up in similar conditions, having to raise kids during the Korean War and the immediate post-war. This is why the Nam-Soon in Lee Myung-Se's 형사 (Duelist) shows such a departure compared to Chae-Ok in this series. Although by the early 90s Bang dropped the 'Nam-Soon' character and changed it to Chae-Ok, we're still dealing with a tough-as-nails, independent woman who doesn't need anyone to advance in life. The project of adapting the manhwa actually started almost a decade ago, and at first it was supposed to be a film. Yet for a variety of reasons, including production values and the growing crisis the genre was facing, the project kept being pushed, until MBC came to the table, and made a propose to adapt the work into a Miniseries. When Bang was negotiating with film companies, he had a model in mind: Brigitte Lin and her strong female roles. But of course it wasn't easy to find her Korean counterpart. Someone who could be convincing when displaying a strong masculine side of her personality, and even be able to handle the action in the show.

The casting of the show went back and forth for several months, with Lee Jung-Jin initially cast as Hwangbo Yoon, and Ha Ji-Won as Chae-Ok. Lee and his management raised a fuss over the rest of the cast, and at the last moment Lee Seo-Jin and Kim Min-Joon joined the cast, while Lee dropped out of the picture (thankfully, you could say). And casting was important here, as the show didn't just focus on the three main characters, but also expanded its scope to include many more. A sort of milieu between the 'one character' focus of Lee Byung-Hoon's new age Dramas like 'Sang Do' and 'Hur Joon' and the traditional Historical Dramas with dozens of characters. Super talented Lee Moon-Shik joined the cast, along with sitcom mainstay Kwon Oh-Joong, and Sageuk veteran Park Young-Gyu. Everything was ready: a solid source at the show's foundation, a good writer in Jung Hyung-Soo, who capably translated Bang Hak-Gi's visuals into the kind of visual and emotional language fitting the TV format; a talented cast, mixing veterans and promising youngsters, and a top notch technical staff, last but not least action choreography from the same Seoul Action School founded by Jung Doo-Hong. With over 2/3 of the shows in the can, and a huge budget (200 Million Won per episode, pretty much trampling every other Miniseries ever shot in Korean TV history) 'Damo' was ready to be unveiled to the public. Little did they know that on a hot night in July, Korean TV Dramas would never be the same again.

One of the first obvious consequences of the 'wired' culture in Korea was the changing attitudes towards Drama viewership and their importance vis-a-vis the role of the Internet. Whereas before producers would only look at the ratings, now legions of netizens would start writing, commenting, discussing about the shows, regardless of their popularity. You didn't just have a bunch of numbers, but a collection of a thousand, ten thousand, sometimes a hundred thousand opinions. Was last night's show good? Did the lead actress' acting stink? Was the story too cliched and obvious? Within minutes of the end of the show, just a look at the official website and you'd get your answers. With the 1999 Noh Hee-Kyung Drama 거짓말 (Lie), the era of 'Mania Dramas' started in full force. Now even shows with bad ratings could live a second life online, through viewers' appreciation and discussion. 2002's 네 멋대로 해라 (Ruler of Your Own World) made the pages of major film and culture magazines. An amazing number of people got together, discussed about the Drama, went back to the spots and locations which left a lasting impression on them after watching the series. Yet, that was nothing compared to 'Damo'. Within hours of the end of the show, the official website went down. No, it wasn't the occasional server failure, it's just that a few hundred thousand people tried to post at the same time, and the site's message board was literally flooded with comments. Hundreds per hours, thousands per day. A few weeks after the show started airing, the message board hit the Million post mark, something which never, ever happened for anything shown on Korean Tv. 'Damo' had become more than a simple TV Drama. It was a full fledged cultural phenomenon.

The show's fans, who called themselves 다모폐인 (crippled by Damo) created countless Cafe and Message Boards, they started unofficial Daily Online Newspapers (The 'Crippled By Damo' Ilbo, one of the dozens of examples), edited Music Videos by themselves, posted thousands of drawings related to the show. They essentially brought Mania Dramas to the mainstream. Whereas older Mania Dramas were simply being resurrected by those fans online, it was something starting and ending there. They liked the show, they talked about it, end of story. But 'Damo', which recorded average ratings, became mainstream thanks to the huge popularity it enjoyed online, and forced TV Stations to change their approach to ratings. After that, online contents became much more important, stations listened a little more to the opinion of viewers (sometimes a little too much), and the brand image of new TV Dramas was modeled after the kind of audience it tried to go after, instead of simply tossing a big star on TV with a cliched tearjerker of a script, hoping people would fall for it. 'Damo' changed TV Dramas forever, because it was a wake up call for both Historical Drama writers, who focused only on certain elements and certain target demographics, and the station themselves, which often spent big money on huge projects without looking at whom they wanted to target first. By mixing action, melodrama, comedy and mystery to a tremendously solid technical background, the show ushered in a new era, that of the Fusion Dramas. Shows that can appeal to the history buff just as much as the teenagers who watches Dramas for the actors' physical appearance.

But simply being a revolutionary show doesn't necessarily make for good viewing. The show had to deal with an almost impossible task: adapt a work which had very strong ties to past historical dramas and add a strong melodramatic element (the 'mello code, as it's called in Korea). They could have gone overboard, but thankfully 'Damo' offers both sides of the coin: its first half explores the various investigating techniques of the period, sets up the Damo's profession and how it was connected to the social fabric, and even found the time to add the compulsory political strife. Featuring our heroine dealing with a ring of counterfeit coins, 반역자 (rebels) trying to change Joseon society for the better, corrupt politicians and lots of intrigue, 'Damo' had all the elements which make Historical Dramas great. But it also had a strong cinematic humanism, which later became Lee Jae-Gyu's trademark, as he showed in his follow up 패션 70s (Fashion Seventies). Because, yes, this show sometimes turns into a glorified 신파 (shinpa, tearjerker), but it earns its marks (or tears) by going for sincerity over the hysterical manipulations of certain TV Dramas.

'Damo' doesn't completely give justice to Bang Hak-Gi's work, as it tends to cop out to traditional dichotomies (Chae-Ok here is much weaker than the original Nam-Soon, and always seems to need a man to solve problems for her, essentially because everything reverts to love -- again the mello code at play), yet it has an almost voracious power, from start to finish, engulfing the viewer in its strange world. You feel close to the characters more than any other Historical Drama, even better ones. It might be the stunning, HD-enhanced look of the show, the superb sound design, the great soundtrack (a fantastic mix of traditional music and more modern rock/electronica), or just the fact it's a well written show. But even though I can't say I've been crippled by Damo, I'll never forget it. 'Damo' might be a landmark for what it meant to the industry as a whole, but it's also a memorable Drama, one of the best of the last few years, for blending so many of the elements which make Korean TV Dramas worth watching into something fresh, consistently engaging and tremendously well produced. And if you see Fusion Dramas like 태왕사신기 (The Four Gods) popping out left and right nowadays, always remember. It all started here, on a hot night in July...

AVAILABILITY

DVD - Korean Version (Director's Cut - No Subtitles)
DVD - US Version (English Subtitles) NORTH AMERICA
DVD - US Version (English Subtitles)
DVD - Japanese Version (Japanese Subtitles)

Now, there's not much to choose from: if you need the subtitles, your only option is the YesAsia Entertainment version. But if you truly care about the show, the Korean Director's Cut is a must get. It's the only version preserving the 16:9 aspect ratio (I think the YesAsia DVD is letterbox, but I might be wrong) and 5.1 sound (along with a truly STUNNING progressive transfer. This is one of the best looking DVDs ever released in the Korean market), there's 70 Minutes of additional footage which fleshes out the characters a little better, has better action and even a little more gore, there's hours of extra features, including a video commentary of the last episode; it also has three fantastic posters in special high-quality 한지 (Korean traditional paper), which is much more resistant than ordinary paper (and just looks great, if you ask me), and then the stylish package rounds up one of the best DVD releases in the market's history. Only problem, of course, is that there's no subtitles. And even if you know a little Korean, you'll be completely lost, as we're talking about the Joseon Dynasty and old Korean, something even native speakers (especially teenagers) can have some problems with. The set is now selling for half the price (around 50 bucks) and it's a beauty, so make up your mind. If you really really like the show, you could get both for a little over the price of the usual big Korean Drama boxset (50 for the Korean + 70/80 for the US Version), and the Korean set is truly worth every penny. If you were intrigued by Korean Historical Dramas but were intimidated by their length (or cost), this is the best way to start.

» Posted by X at February 16, 2006 11:58 PM
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Reader Comments

Great review X. Uh ... I'm guessing Han Book's version of Damo DVD set is not the director's cut. Where can I get the Korean director's cut?

» Posted by cyberman at February 17, 2006 01:19 AM

I linked it up there, under 'availability'. Limited stock everywhere, from what I heard (Bitwin even canceled the re-issue of the Sandglass and Green Rose sets as they didn't have enough stock, so get them fast if you need any of those half-price Dramas)

» Posted by x at February 17, 2006 01:30 AM

Thanks X ... I was too lazy to figure it out the first time!!

» Posted by cyberman at February 17, 2006 01:43 AM

How did you know about the Damo thread at the Hotelier2002 site? Now everyone's going to know about our secret Damo Hospital and the bunch of wacko patients who go around yodeling/wailing the Damo anthem! ^_____^

» Posted by thunderbolt at February 17, 2006 04:21 AM

bahahaha... thought you could escape, uh? Google knows everything (Naver too!). ^_^

There's nothing wrong with a little love for a show. Plenty of footage and other stuff too. Too bad Soompi crashed, I bet the Damo thread was humongous there (still, 80 pages... that's a lot).

» Posted by x at February 17, 2006 04:38 AM

Awesome drama, awesome review.

» Posted by melusine at February 17, 2006 11:49 AM

Enlightening review as always, my beloved x. I espeacially loved the well crafted introduction to the world of (period-) K-Drama, from past to present. Really intriguing and insightful.

Personally, I never really touched a Korean drama up to now. And I still have not quite. That is to say, I just started... sort of.

Since I loved 형사 (Duelist) so damn much, I decided to get hold of 다모 (Damo) to see what similarities/differences in story, characters, atmosphere and style in particular there are. I have only seen three episodes, but I quite like it thus far. And to my own surprise, I even noticed a great deal of similarities hitherto. Wich struck me as odd, as I kept on reading about how different 이명세 (Lee Myung-Se) approached the source material. Oh my, I'm just rambling about here, better stop. I wouldn't even know where to head, let alone where to finish. -.-

Ah, one complaint, though: I somewhat missed your own sensitive opinion on 다모 (Damo) as a conclusion or something. You just stated you can't say Damo crippled you, but you'll never forget it. Oh, and you rhapsodically recommended the Korean DVD :D. But other than that, I don't quite know what you personally think about 다모 (Damo).

No offence, just constructive critic. You know I love you and your passionate work. ;)

» Posted by Danny at February 17, 2006 02:39 PM

X:

I take it there are fan-subs out there for those of us who are interested in the 16:9 Korean version?

(Yes,I could probably look myself, but others on this thread are interested.

» Posted by Kurt at February 17, 2006 02:55 PM

Kurt: I suppose. I think most of the fansubs focus on the normal TV version, but there could be even timed subs for the Director's Cut. I don't really know where to look for that kind of stuff (D-Addicts? Have no idea), but there's probably something out there.

Danny: you're right, didn't actually focus much on that aspect of the review. So much has been written about the show, mostly on the positive end of the spectrum, that I'd be repeating the same (and in some ways, if you go read my Fashion Seventies - same PD - my feelings about the show will somewhat mirror this one). Loved Lee Seo-Jin, LEe Moon-Shik, and to a lesser degree Ha Ji-Won (not her fault, but the manhwa character was so strong that this 'melo version' didn't hit me as much as others). I just tried to talk about why it was such a landmark Drama in terms of influence in the industry.

Why didn't it 'cripple' me, perhaps because I was a huge fan of Historical Dramas (esp. traditional ones) and crazy about Korean History, so while I felt the revolution coming, I'm still not sure whether I like the changes it brought or not. I mean, you'll read next week how much I like 'Emperor of the Sea', but watching things like 'Tears of the Dragon' was a different experience.

But I did like the Drama a lot. It's an unforgettable experience because it feels so fresh (put in a Korean context. I can see how avid viewers of old TVB Dramas might feel a sense of deja vu, at least in the wuxia+melodrama aspects), and it's so emotionally involving, something which wouldn't happen with traditional Dramas unless you knew the History behind the issues.

» Posted by x at February 17, 2006 06:03 PM

"Loved Lee Seo-Jin, LEe Moon-Shik, and to a lesser degree Ha Ji-Won..."

You loved the LSJ character too? YAY!! *kiss*

"...and it's so emotionally involving..."

Ok, admit you cried watching Damo. Come on, X, you did, didn't you? I was an emotional wreck for weeks after finishing Damo. "Crippled by Damo" (Damo pyein) is such an apt moniker.

"...something which wouldn't happen with traditional Dramas unless you knew the History behind the issues."

I read "issues" as "tissues." *sigh* I really am a Damo nutcase.

» Posted by thunderbolt at February 18, 2006 10:04 AM

OK, I admit it. I cried. Wasn't the first time I did that for a Drama or film (꽃보다 아름다워 made a mess of me), and certainly not the last.

» Posted by x at February 18, 2006 06:39 PM

I LOVE this show...i cried buckets and this show left me so traumatized i couldn't stop thinking about it days after i watched it....it has depth and it's sorrowful in the sense that it portrays how reality and class status difference makes one so helpless...i remembered having difficulties breathing...haha...btw..X, where's the review for winter sonata? i am looking forward to it..have u written it? i couldn't seem to find that review..haha

» Posted by immunophilic at February 20, 2006 03:38 AM

haven't reviewed it yet. Planned to do it with April Snow, but I figured I did enough Yonsama bashing for that week, so I pushed it off a little.

Will be focusing more on newer Dramas after 해신 (Emperor of the Sea), so it might actually take a few months to surface, but I will review it. I promise. ^_^

» Posted by x at February 20, 2006 04:05 AM

be a little kinder to the actors that you don't personally like. you're supposed to be a "professional" writer not a wannabe who suffers from this i-hate-celebrity-syndrome and spare us your personal prejudices. we want to read intelligent critique not snide comments.

» Posted by carlo at February 20, 2006 11:52 PM

As far as I'm concerned the most intelligent thing a reviewer can do is state their personal biases up front so that readers can take them into account when reading. Objectivity is a myth. And you can be pretty sure that if X dislikes a particular actor he's got sound reasons for it. There are an awful lot of celebrities that he likes quite a lot. Rather than getting snippy you should wonder why he dislikes this particular celebrity then put a little thought into whether or not you agree with him, and why.

» Posted by Todd Brown at February 21, 2006 12:52 AM

hi.give me about all korean dramas.thank you bye-bye

» Posted by GULNOZA YUSUPOVA at February 25, 2006 01:37 AM

I wasn't going to watch this and I probably still wouldn't have if my friend hadn't purchased it as a Christmas gift but I can now honestly say that my top favorite drama has changed. I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed, closer and closer to the tv as each scene played and each episode passed. As the night grew quiet I sat in my room glued to the tv, yet yawning as it was late into the night -- so late that in only a mere two hours, i had to leave for work. Yes, I was sacrificing sleep for more of Chae-Ohk, and Yoon, as well as Sang Baek. At last I decided to stop at ep. 6 and rest my eyes so I could at least get an hour or so of sleep to be able to function today.

Never have I felt so emotionally drawn to a character or set of characters like I have with Damo. I'm anticipating what will happen next in the upcoming episodes as from the reviews I've read so far, tissue boxes are needed? Alright then, toilet paper will have to do.

I'm sitting here, wishing that the day would hurry and end so I can continue to watch this amazing story unfold.

Thank you, X, for a well written review.

» Posted by J at January 24, 2007 06:30 PM

Annyeong!
Annyeong ha se yo? Well here I am again.... To X you had a good review! This was one of the best shows that I loved but I was sad at the ending because all of them died!!!!! Well nevertheless, Ha Ji Won did a great job!!! The setting was fine. I guess it costed billions! Hehe... Well to tell you honestly, I love shows that are in lined with history! "cause I love history!!!
The others that I loved were HaeShin (Emperor of The Sea) and JuMong the Prince of Legend!!! It's cool!!!! See ya!

» Posted by Baek Ha-jin at February 26, 2007 06:06 AM

To the previous poster,

It boggles my mind that you'd be careless and inconsiderate enough to spoil the ending for many of the readers who have not had the pleasure to enjoy this show.

Now thanks to you, many of us who were unfortunate enough to read your post will never have the pleasure to experience Damo the way you did.

Please learn some posting ettiquette. It's common sense.

» Posted by D_K at April 25, 2007 06:38 PM

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